Writer Billy Beale / Photographer Emily Doyle
Covering WITCH, one feels a heavy responsibility. In their 1970s heyday, they were one of the biggest and best known acts of the zamrock genre. The current iteration sees original frontman Jagari Chanda leading band members old and new in their distinctive blend of psychedelic rock and traditional African, specifically Zambian, music.
The best introduction to the band is the 2019 film We Intend To Cause Havoc (that title is the phrase acronymised in their name). Though light on footage from the band’s 1970s glory days, anecdotes from fans paint quite the picture. A band with all the ferocity of Iggy and the Stooges, the musical virtuosity of Hendrix, and the meticulous stagecraft of James Brown.
It’s quite the shock when it’s revealed that Jagari, now in his 70s, has been making a living by mining gemstones by hand. A stark contrast to the athletic performer described by fans and depicted in psychedelic shadow puppet animation sequences.
Before WITCH takes to the stage at the Hare & Hounds, I see openers Margarita Witch Cult have their t-shirts hanging next to co-promoter Supersonic’s “Home of Metal – Birmingham” shirt. Their riffs ooze thick and sludgy heavy heritage.
The set culminates with a whistle stop tour of Black Sabbath’s best riffs, cramming all the heavy hits into no more than two minutes flat. It sounds a bit like telling the teacher you cheated on the homework you got an A on, declaring “so what?”, and the whole class applauding you.
Jagari is nowhere to be seen when WITCH begin their set with a laid-back groove. The room is packed. Just as described in the film, this preliminary ritual is the first taste of the band’s unique performance style.
After a few minutes, Jagari enters the room and takes the stage. Both he and keyboardist Patrick Mwondela are wearing the band’s iconic wide-brimmed floppy hats made of Chintenge (or Kintenge) fabric.
It’s a bold look and any fans brave enough can get their own at the merch table.
WITCH’s set tells the complete story of rock & roll through the ‘60s and ‘70s, moving from garagey rhythm & blues through to fuzzed-out psychey funk. Throughout, the story is told with an emphasis on their distinctive rhythmic style, a fusion of traditional styles from their homeland and ‘60s rock and roll. It’s this sonic alchemy that made them one of the biggest bands in their scene back in the day.
Their biggest hit ‘Lazy Bones’ closes out a surprisingly lengthy and energetic set. It’s a privilege to see performers with such a rich history who can still rock with the best of them.
For other events at Hare & Hounds visit: www.hareandhoundskingsheath.co.uk