The Zamrock Band Witch Lost All but One Member. Its Singer Carries On.

During a feverish performance last fall at Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn, Emmanuel Chanda (who uses the stage name Jagari) paused to preach what he called “the philosophy of positivity.”

“When a woman doesn’t love you or when someone does you wrong, it’s all right,” the frontman of the Zambian rock band Witch said, flashing a wide smile. “It’s always all right.”

For Chanda, “It’s Alright” — the title of a Witch song from 1974 — isn’t a cheap bromide or a rank cliché. It’s an enduring ballast in a life that has encountered an uncommon number of tragedies and hardships, as well as dreams long deferred.

In his 71 years, Chanda has seen his landlocked African country experience waves of political turmoil and economic meltdowns as well as the scourge of AIDS in the ’80s and ’90s, which took the lives of every other original member of Witch. At the same time, he has enjoyed a vaunted reputation at home and with cult audiences abroad as a pioneer of the Zamrock movement that exploded in the 1970s when his country, flush from the spoils of its chief economic source — copper mines — provided young musicians access to European and American music, and created a unique sound.

At its root, Zamrock melded fuzz-toned psychedelia, chugging garage rock and roiling funk with a broad mix of African cadences and beats. In its heyday, Witch drew thousands of local fans to its shows, enlivening a scene that included bands like Musi O Tunya (led by the Zamrock mainstay Rikki Ililonga), the Ngozi Family, and Amanaz.

Between 1972 and ’77, Chanda recorded five albums with Witch (its name stands for We Intend to Create Havoc) that initially had no impact outside the Zambia region. That began to change in 2010, when reissues and compilations appeared in Europe and the United States. Fans responded passionately enough to support tours by a fresh band that Chanda assembled six years ago featuring mainly young, European musicians. (The keyboardist Patrick Mwondela played in an incarnation of Witch after Chanda departed in 1979, and is the only other Zambian in the current group.)

A recent documentary about the band, titled “We Intend to Cause Havoc,” generated more attention, which has helped Chanda finally fulfill one of his greatest dreams: to record new Witch music. This week the band releases “Zango,” the first album to appear under its name since 1984 and the first in over four decades to feature its frontman.

“To me, this is a resurrection,” Chanda said in an interview at a Williamsburg coffee shop the day after the concert. “It’s like I went into oblivion, and then was pushed out to continue what I was created to do.”

In the years since Witch first made an impact, younger musicians have been paying attention. Sampa the Great, a 29-year-old Zambian rapper with international reach, said she connected “to the defiance and the edginess” of Witch’s music. “To have traditional music and infuse it with rock, that’s what I do with hip-hop,” she added. She collaborated with Witch on a track from her 2022 album “As Above, So Below” and appears on one of the band’s new songs.

Ahmed Gallab, a Sudanese American musician whose group, Sinkane, plays a progressive brand of funk, said that Chanda’s role in Witch “showed me how to be an African rock star to the max.”

In some ways, Witch’s new music picks up right where the original band left off. Partisan Records, which signed the group, insisted that it record at DB studios in Lusaka, Zambia, where the act cut its most vaunted set, “Lazy Bones,” in 1975.

“We have the original gear from those records and the same sound engineer,” said Jacco Gardner, the band’s current bassist, who hails from the Netherlands. But, according to Stefan Lilov, the band’s Switzerland-based guitarist, “some of the equipment was in terrible shape. We had to have a guy solder the guitar pedals together as we were recording.”

Despite the vintage touches, it’s the band’s mix of European and African players, as well as its contrast in generations (with all the European members in their 30s and the Zambians in their 70s), that has infused the new music with fresh rhythmic and melodic flourishes.

Onstage in Brooklyn, Chanda easily outpaced his younger bandmates, headbanging, jittering and shaking throughout the night. (His old nickname was Jagger, as in Mick, for his stage moves.) “I didn’t want to be in another man’s shadow,” Chanda said, explaining why he added an “i” to the end of his adopted first name to make it Jagari, which means a brewer of brown sugar in a local language. “I Africanized it!”

Bands like the Rolling Stones entranced Chanda from an early age. He first heard their music, as well as that of Grand Funk Railroad and Black Sabbath, on jukeboxes at bars and via radio stations based in Zimbabwe. To young Zambians like Chanda, the bold sound of Stratocasters symbolized the feeling of freedom their country had finally won from Britain in 1964. “Every town had a band or two,” the singer said. “My town had five or six.”

Chanda learned guitar from a friend’s brother. In 1971, while in high school, he joined Witch, which mixed Western rock with local kalindula rhythms, helping set off the Zamrock movement. “Not to take anything away from the other great Zambian rock bands, but Witch was on another level,” said Eothen Alapatt, who heads Now-Again Records, a U.S.-based label that reissued its classic work. “Over the course of five records, they showcased tremendous range and development.”

Chandra put it simply: “Witch was the band everyone wanted to join.”

But the Zamrock renaissance was short-lived. By the late ’70s, Zambia’s economy had cratered with tumbling copper prices. Conflicts in neighboring countries spilled over into Zambia, leading the government to declare curfews and blackouts that made concerts rare. “Music became a luxury people couldn’t afford,” Chanda said.

Then came AIDS, which decimated large portions of the population. With a new family to support, Chanda quit playing music and began teaching it at Lusaka College. Later, he became a civil servant, but he was fired after being accused of picking up a shipment of drugs at an airport in the mid-90s; the charges were later dropped. To keep his family going, he worked in the mines, and got sober and became religious. Even with the influx of money from touring in recent years, Chanda still digs for gemstones in rough earth to make ends meet. “At this age, it’s hard work for me,” he said, “especially in Africa where it’s hotter.”

The chance to tour and create fresh music with new musicians has reinvigorated him. “Jagari wasn’t saying, ‘You have to make the exact Zamrock sound,’” Gardner said. “He said, ‘Make it your own.’”

Chanda’s new lyrics, which he delivers in English and several languages local to Zambia, cover both personal and political topics. “Stop the Rot,” sung in Bemba, criticizes those who still practice witchcraft in Zambia. “It’s detrimental to a developing country,” he said. “Message From Witch” features entreaties to halt a host of prejudices, including antisemitism and homophobia — a proclamation that represents a considerable risk in Zambia, where gay sexual activity can draw prison sentences of 15 years or more.

Given the escalating demand for Witch to tour — the group completed three jaunts in 2022 — Chanda has big dreams for the future. He hopes to make enough money to afford an excavator to ease the toil of his mining, and he wants to fund a music school back home. He admitted that he sometimes thinks back to his fallen bandmates. “I do wish that group was here,” he said.

At the same time, his philosophy of positivity and stalwart faith has inspired him to focus on his new chance. “I’m not here because I’m clever,” he said with his reliable smile. “It’s God. His grace has allowed me to live again.”

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