"There is a fantastically daft book out on McSweenys called All Known Metal Bands 'by' Dan Nelson. It is literally an alphabetic list of 50,000 heavy metal groups with no other information contained within its pages. Even though this is little more than a frivolous coffee table gewgaw it still manages to nail something about the adolescent wish fulfilment of four decades' worth of long hairs the world over. There is nearly a full page of groups called Stonehenge and at least 15 called Death. Featuring amongst the ranks of the multiple entries are groups with the nomenclature Witch. This speaks of a different time, when metal was a purely youthful male concern and the idea of a self-sufficient old woman with rudimentary knowledge of herbs and a pet cat was presumably a more potently terrifying one than it is now. (Unless you happen to be J Mascis of course.)
Women of the dark arts are an international concern however, and so it follows that there have been many groups called Witch all across the globe – and not just amongst the practioners of heavy metal. The greatest of all of them surely must be the Zambian psych rock group who were in existence during the 1970s and 1980s and who have had their recorded output from 1972 to 1977 collected in this excellent box set by Now Again.
When you first get introduced to the craft of WITCH, the thing that is most noticeable is how Western their deep psych sound is; as if they were an idealised Pebbles or Nuggets band. On the opening track of the first disc 'Introduction' we get hit by the immersive fuzz bass of Gedeon 'Giddy Kings' Mwamulenga, juddering organ of Paul 'Jones' Mumba and smoking guitar by John 'Music' Muma and Chris 'Kims' Mbewe. The patterns on some of the stone cold drumming by Boyd 'Star McBoydie' Sinkala give us a bit of a geographic clue but initially it is really only the vocals of Emmanuel Kanga 'Jagari' Chanda that give this away as the recording of an African band. And even then Jagari's vocals are so mannered and hellaciously groovy, that he doesn't sound all that dissimilar to Mick Jagger. This is unsurprising given that he grew up idolising British acts such as The Stones, The Beatles, Cliff Richard and The Hollies.
Jagari and the rest of WITCH were born in Zambia in the south of Africa and lived through some of the most tumultuous years in the country's history. Their nation threw off the yoke of British colonial oppression in 1964 when these boys were entering their teenage years. As these young men were discovering rock music the rest of their country was just embarking on a brief spell of economic growth thanks to the short-lived copper mining boom. However by the time WITCH were reaching the height of their powers musically in the mid-70s, the boom had bust leaving everything – including their career - in turmoil. So despite playing Western music, at the very best you could say that the band had mixed feelings about Western culture. Speaking in the excellent sleeve notes, Jagari says: “The American/European musical influence in southern Africa was similar – especially because Zambia, Malawi and Zimbabwe were under the same colonial masters as Northern Rhodesia and Myasaland. These masters forced their imported culture on their subjects.”