Witch, We Intend to Cause Havoc!

Michaelangelo Matos

By Michaelangelo Matos

on 12.03.12 in Reviews

At the end of 2010, the pseudonymous Twitter music critic @Discographies told the Village Voice, “I’d argue that for a lot of people the dominant mode of music consumption is neither the album or the song but the discography…Since we’re now at a point where it costs virtually nothing to acquire and store someone’s life work the one truly valuable commodity that still surrounds music consumption is the expenditure of time necessary to hear all the stuff you’ve downloaded.”

A triumph of dogged scholarship

More and more, reissue labels are acting on this impulse. Case in point: We Intend to Cause Havoc!, the Stones Throw reissue spinoff Now Again’s new, three-hour, 45-minute collection of everything released between 1972-77 by the Zambian rock outfit Witch. (The group’s name was an acronym for the box’s title.) The music is all of a piece, so hangs together as an extended narrative about the directions one band took, and what it said about its time. On the other, it’s the culmination of the discographical-download impulse made flesh, with music that was, until recently, exceptionally rare.

In 1976, Zambia’s population was 5 million — about the number of LPs Fleetwood Mac, the Eagles and Led Zeppelin sold that year, each. Zamrock, the ’70s phenomenon Witch spearheaded, was very much a local concern, and future collectors’ markets were on nobody’s mind. We Intend to Cause Havoc! is a triumph of dogged scholarship.

The first two Witch albums (tracks 1-19) were recorded fast, which is obvious — the sound’s a bit cramped, though the band sounds expansive on blues-rock rave-ups like “See You Mama” and “Feeling High,” a Jagger-like showcase for Emmanuel Kangwa “Jagari” Chanda’s keening lead vocals, both on 1972′s Introduction. By 1974′s In the Past, they were getting funkier — “Mashed Potatoes” featured a bass breakdown familiar to “Cold Sweat” fans, though not James Brown’s actual song “Mashed Potatoes” — a development that yielded stronger results on 1975′s Lazy Bones!!, in large part thanks to the greatly stepped-up drumming of Boyd “Star McBoydie” Sinkala.

Still, the instrumental star was Chris “Kims” Mbewe, who loved to turn on the fuzz and go. Evoking a snake charmer on “Fool’s Ride” (from 1976′s Lukombo Vibes) and a hopped up mosquito on “Black Tears” (Lazy Bones!!), he imported Hendrix-Clapton-Hazel-Zappa-style tonality and flash to his own ends. His shamelessly florid leads bind Witch’s music to its time and place — and are the source of its fascination today.