Interview: Emmanuel ‘Jagari’ Chanda

Highlights from the Zamrock legend’s couch session at the Madrid 2011 Academy

Dan Wilton

Emmanuel ‘Jagari’ Chanda represents, literally, a dying breed: the Zambian musicians who bucked social and cultural trends, and forged what they termed the ‘Zamrock’ movement in the southern African nation Zambia’s capital city of Lusaka and in the Copperbelt Provinces in the early to mid-1970s. Chanda was leader of the preeminent Zamrock ensemble WITCH, who recorded and released five albums during Zamrock’s heyday – including the first commercial album produced and released in Zambia, their garage rock opus Introduction. Many of his peers have passed away in the intervening 30 years since the introduction of cassette piracy (which led to a severe decline in the Zambian recording industry); many victims of the AIDS pandemic, which struck this nation hard. Yet, he has maintained a hope to etch some of Zamrock’s history – most of which is oral history, contained in the minds of Chanda and the few of his compatriots that still live, and only told to the interested – in the annals of global music.

WITCH is an acronym and it stands for ‘We Intend To Cause Havoc’. But beyond the WITCH and the five albums that you created with them, WITCH helped create the Zamrock scene. This is a movement for which there is very little documentation and it’s only an oral history, and there are not many people like you left. You’re the last man standing from the WITCH band. The majority of people who created this music are dead. They died in the ‘80s, many from AIDS, and their stories are lost with them.

Partly music in my country, maybe worldwide, survives on two things: the population of the country. First of all, you have to start with your home ground and the economic situation of that country. If there are 80 million people in that country and they are not starving, you just need one good song and it will help you to find money to buy your privacy so you can create better music with that privacy. But the situation at home is different. We don’t have peace, because most of the time you’re walking around looking for money. Now, when you find that money, I buy a bag of mealie-meal, that’s our staple food, or I go and buy a CD. I go and pay someone to teach me at the expense of my family eating. So, we have such problems.

However, talent is there, like everywhere else in the world. Now, there’s another addition – our young generation today are totally dependent on the computer. They all want to be solo artists and they’ll go in the backyard, sample something, press somewhere and sing over that and say, “That’s my composition.” This machine is welcome, the computer’s welcome, it’s here to stay. But the computer does not feel the music and the music is about feelings and thoughts, emotions. Now, if you leave that to the machine you’re limiting your own creativity. This is what is happening with the youngsters, they depend on the machine that can’t feel for them. Maybe for rhythm, as long as there’s power in the house, I’ll set a certain rhythm and go down, go anywhere I want, and find that rhythm going at the same tempo. That’s the advantage it has over human beings. The human will tire at one point and slow down the tempo.

Now, having said that, we have situations and an opportunity in my country that is not being utilised. We have music from birth to death. There’s plenty of music. We have nine provinces – soon there will be 10, the new president wants an additional one. And in those nine or ten provinces we have 73 ethnic groups, tribes and dialects. Every ethnic group has got its own unique type of music and instrument. But we musicians down there do not utilise that opportunity to research and improve on what we think we know musically. Everyone wants to be Tupac, there can never be two Tupacs. There can never be two 50 Cents, there is only one of each. My barber tells me we are all fearfully and wonderfully made, everyone is unique in here. So, if you want to be somebody else it becomes difficult.

We have a lot of influence – I’ll be jumping here and there as long as the story is going. In my time, very few went to secondary school – that is your high school – but they were talented musicians, and that brought a problem of language. Maybe I can play a song or two. They are going to ask: “What are you saying?” Sometimes we killed the nice music by singing wrong words, sometimes it happens. Now we are influenced. The time when I was growing up we had certain music, we had influence from Europe, from America, from South Africa, with rock and pop music of the West. Then we didn’t know how to fuse that. But one of the radio DJs coined the [term] Zamrock – Zambian and rock, rock ‘n’ roll if you like, Zambian rock.

WITCH’s first show in Lusaka at a music festival in Matero Stadium. Left to right: Chir ‘Kims’ Mbewe, John Muma and Jagari on the right (April, 1974) Courtesy of Now-Again Records

Here’s a question before we get into that part of it. I don’t mean to gloss over anything because you said a bunch of profound things that people of privilege – and I consider myself a person of privilege – don’t take seriously. I don’t take seriously whether or not I’m going to be able to buy food or a musical instrument or a record, or at least I haven’t in a long time. But even when I did it was more of a selfish concern. This is a human concern and it’s why there are no records in Zambia. This is why the mastertapes from his scene are gone for the most part. It’s a human concern to eat in a place where rampant inflation led to strikes in the ‘80s, as people couldn’t afford food. Imagine being a star – and this man was a star, the WITCH ensemble was a humungous deal there and they played heavy, heavy music – yet he, like everyone else, is trying to find his way in a country that’s been devastated. So I don’t mean to gloss over that, but to talk about Zamrock in particular…

Let me just explain how that comes to Zamrock. Either we used local language played on a foreign instrument and then try to probably sound like Rolling Stones, Beatles, something like that, which wasn’t possible, but we didn’t realise that. So, in the end we created something different. It was good, but it was difficult to accept in terms of quality because then we didn’t have many studios – even up to now we still don’t have international standard studios. We wanted to sound like foreign artists. We did have no experience. My band was the first band that recorded a commercial record in that country in 1972 or ‘3. We had nothing to look to, to say, “You should do that like that.” We just imagined big bands, how they behaved.

“Criss-cross rhythms, that is the strength of African music. Ours is not the harmonies; it’s you guys who are the harmonies.”

So with the release of the first two albums Introduction and In The Past, you have Zambian youth, something made by Zambian youth, something they could buy, a product of their own country. They didn’t have to rely on imports or the Lusaka Radio Band or any of these other bands that had broadcasts.

Well, it wasn’t just for the youth. Every Zambian wanted something by the local group, so even the older people bought the music, except we didn’t have a company printing records in Zambia at that time. I had to fly with my manager to Nairobi, they were printing records there at Sapra Studios or something. I was bringing the records in my bag, like hand luggage or something, to take back to Zambia. My bandsmen, including myself, were very excited to have 300 kwacha in everyone’s pocket after we sold the first batch. I could buy my bed, my fridge and a suit from that. So, it encouraged not only us as bandsmen, but all other musicians around. Everyone wanted to compose and have something to call their own, but there’s a trick to how we organised eventually. Allow me to just jump a bit. We changed managers twice, ‘cause the second manager didn’t want us to sign a contract. He misconstrued it as mistrust. “I do things for you guys, and now you want to sign a contract ‘cause you don’t trust me. I’m taking back my instruments.” So eventually, we found a serious recording company from South Africa called Teal Record Company. We had a difference with the manager, so he took away his instruments and then an idea dropped. I said, “OK, you can keep your instruments but this is not your music. You only sponsored the recordings, so can we have our music back?” We fought a bit, but eventually he gave in and we shared 60-40% of the mastertapes, which we sold to Zambian Music Parlour.

You just mentioned a very important record company in Zambia, the Zambian Music Parlour, which was run by the late Edward Khuzwayo. And the first two WITCH albums received a repress in 1974. It’s had quite a few press runs, I can document four myself, so it must have had quite a success in the country. And it did inspire other bands, including a very famous band called Musi O Tunya. They recorded an album called Wings Of Africa, shortly after WITCH released Introduction and In The Past.

There was a very serious band in the UK from West Africa, called Osibisa. When they toured our country, we were the curtain-raisers at that time. I saw something about the way they organised themselves, actually they were more professional than any of the local bands. Their music inspired me in two things: being curtain-raisers for the band we were allowed to be backstage. I saw how they were into their songs, into their music, even before they got to the stage. When they were changing, they were wearing their stage gear, and of course they had weed – I’m sorry to say but this is what I saw. As they got ready, if their first song started with a drummer, the drummer left the changing room first, with a cowbell and he walked to the stage, which was about 200 metres from the changing room, it was in a stadium like a festival setup. So if the song was followed by a bass player, the bass player gets ready and followed. When the drummer got to the stage he started the song right away, then the bass player goes. Others are coming and the song is introduced. When it’s full-fledged, that’s when it kicked off. I learned something from there. As a band we used the same tactic in Malawi and it was very well received.

But the kind of music was a better fusion than our fusion from Osibisa, so that was the next inspiration. I saw that they were very serious with fusing African rhythms, criss-cross rhythms, that is the strength of African music. Ours is not the harmonies; it’s you guys who are the harmonies, four-part harmonies. Ours, I could teach you a simple harmony and you’ll be able to play, sing simple harmonies but it’ll be nice. So, this is what inspired Musi O Tunya, they wanted to follow in their footsteps.

The other thing I learned from their leader, Ted Osei, I asked him, “But what makes you so good?” He said they had a diploma in music from London. I said, “Wow! So if I have a diploma in music I can go anywhere in the world.” That’s what inspired me to go to college. When I got there I was told this is not for musicians who just perform on stage. This is for music teachers, secondary school teachers. One thing led to another. I wanted so badly to get into college, so I joined the college. I was part time with a band at this time. When I joined the college there was curfew and blackout in my country, because there were liberations struggles around us – Zimbabwe, Angola, Mozambique, South Africa – so a lot of refugees came to our country. It wasn’t easy to perform and it also spelt the downfall for my band. The performances were only in the disco and during the day, and people in my country can’t come to a show during the day. They want to drink beer and dance.

On tour in Malawi, November 1975. Back row, left to right: Chris Mbewe, Gilbert Kunda (roadie), Gedeon Mwamulenga; front row, left to right: Boyd Sinkala, Shaddick Bwalya, Billy Ndhlovu, Emmanuel Chanda, John Courtesy of Now-Again Records

You were saying about the harmonies and how they weren’t of primary importance to you in your country. Can you explain a little bit more about what you meant?

Our traditional harmonies are spontaneous, there’s no arranged harmony parts in things. If you find people playing drums and singing along, anyone – whether they come from a beer hour or something – if they like it they will just come and join. It’s up to the crowd to say, “You’re not singing well, move out.” But they will want to sing the loudest, maybe. But if you analyse – after I went to college, I was able to analyse some harmonies. We usually analyse in thirds, do-me, do-fa or sometimes do-so; rarely in octaves. The fourth is for a certain group of people in the southern part of my country, the Tongas. They only harmonise at cadential points, like they’re stopping and then… [sings]. If they don’t know the words they’ll just… [sings], as long as it’s harmony. But it’s simple harmonies and it’s not restricting – if you feel this part is too high for you, you can sing the part that fits in, as long as it’s not off-chord. But the strength, even a small child like this, when they feel the music they will dance right, because that is the strength of the African music, it’s dance music.

Usually, we don’t have instrumental music on its own, where people just listen to instrumental music, except in very rare cases. Probably when a xylophone is played while the chief is backing while getting onto the boat. Maybe you’ve heard of Kuomboka. The chief of the Lozis has two palaces: one, when it’s rainy season, he leaves that palace to go to dry land. They call that Kuomboka. They play music, xylophone, to accompany his movements. They’re the parties in the north-western part of my country, among the Lovales, Kaondes and things, they play what they call cocachas. One man can play a set of seven drums, he’s playing rhythm and solo in there by himself, but it’s very rare. Our music is usually vocal, there are some voices. Also we use it a lot for therapeutic purposes: when somebody’s possessed we lay drums with different rhythms and those demons or whatever they’re called are evoked, so when they’re manifest they’re cast out. I’m sure in the Bible, David was playing for King Saul. So, music plays in a role in healing spiritual problems.

And the lead singer of Musi O Tunya, Derrick Mbao, he’s not singing in English. You sang your first two albums exclusively in English.

That’s what we got from our influences from Europe and English is an official language in my country. Because we have about 72 dialects it’s difficult to influence people. Where we grew up on the Copperbelt, the main language there is Bemba and English, so we were trying to touch more people by singing in a language they’d understand.

Your third album Lazy Bones, is a very special record. In it, in my opinion, you guys hit the psychedelic rock zenith for Zamrock.

The title song “Lazy Bones” sold 7,000 copies in three weeks. It helped us redeem the loan we had from our record company. After we parted company with our two managers, we got a loan from Teal Record Company and we bought some equipment. We had sold two mastertapes to Khuzwayo and then we added something so we had our own transport, our own equipment. It was 15.000 kwacha for the equipment, which is equivalent to about $3000 that time.

This is a special album, a very special album.

What happened was when piracy set in my country, Teal Record Company decided to go back to South Africa and they were courteous enough to give back the mastertapes to the Zambian musicians. So I took advantage and I kept the mastertapes ‘cause I was the only one alive at that time. Which has resulted in what we are talking about today. If I’d lost the mastertapes you wouldn’t have got anything to refer to. I salvaged the mastertapes and took them to South Africa to be transferred onto DATs.

In terms of rock being the favourite type of music for a certain subset of the Zambian music-buying population, were you aware of how singular that was in Africa? When I think of all the countries in Africa that I know of in ‘70s music, only Nigeria had a rock scene to speak of and that was largely due to Ginger Baker and his arrival there. Whereas in Zambia, this landlocked country in the southernmost part of Africa, you’re releasing this incredible rhythmic music at a time when what we now call yacht rock was taking over the airwaves in America and other parts of the world.

We didn’t have so much influence from other people because there were independence struggles within our neighbours. So, migration was limited. We were not allowed to go to South Africa or Angola or Mozambique because of the wars. So, we depended on radio stations and some record shops like Piano House, which was in Kitwe within the proximity of where we lived. Then we had a place in Mozambique called Lorenzo Marrakesh. And they would play top 10, top 20, top 50, just like in Germany. We used to listen to it and read Melody Maker and I’d imagine, “What would the singer of “Satisfaction” be doing? What would he be doing to interpret “Satisfaction”?” So I was imagining sometimes, “If I was singing for The Rolling Stones, what would I do?”

So with the exception of Osibisa you weren’t listening to any other African rock bands or black rock bands in general? Were you listening to Jimi Hendrix, for instance?

Yes, every guitarist in my country started by playing “Hey Joe” [laughs]. That’s how we’d know whether they were serious with their guitar things.

So besides The Rolling Stones and Jimi Hendrix and Osibisa, who else was influential?

Deep Purple, Grand Funk Railroad, The Hollies – I liked their harmonies – and we had local musicians, but they didn’t have albums, we just listened to the radio. Tolamil Walya, Isaac Makpikwe, they were social commentators, they talked about social evils in the country, many different subjects, so they were very influential, also in the way they played.

You talked in an interview we did earlier this year about ‘kalindula’. Can you explain a bit about what that is and how the 5 Revolutions transferred from Zamrock to this musical form?

Kalindula is one form that is recognised in Zambia as authentic music from a rural setup. The central part of Zambia, up to near Congo, that is the kind of music they play. It is for sundown serenades, when they have a social evening after harvest, after they succeed in something, people brew beer and make music in the evenings, especially under the moonlight. So this is the type of music they call kalindula. It’s just one of the types of Zambian music, it’s not the only Zambian music.

You mentioned a melancholic quality in the Nazingwa song, but in a lot of Zamrock songs I find this melancholic quality. Is there a reason, did it have anything to do with the economic conditions at the time, the struggles you guys were gong through? What you saw in neighbouring countries?

This came to light after I studied music. Before that it didn’t click that it could be melancholy or something. But I think the situation in a country influences the music. Take Jamaican music, it’s a protest music most of the time. South African, the Apartheid period did something to them they weren’t happy about and that was expressed in their music, to show they weren’t happy with what was going on. So it has some influence, if your surroundings or your country are in some kind of trouble, going through change, it spills over onto the residents of the place including the musicians.

Very few people understand the changes in the world now, which transcend across colour now. Our generation, thank god, they don’t regard colour. Before that there was a problem. Even today, I’m sorry to say I was the only one asked many questions at the airport. They came to me two, three times and I could tell it was my colour. “Have you been here? Let’s see your passport. What year?” They came back, “OK, OK.” I got to the next point, they’d fish me out. “Have you been here?” I know this takes time to go away, but it’s there, whether we want it or not. We can’t deny it. That was worsened during our time. There were very few people who’d find employment and live on it; either they were miners, labourers or something. The blacks generally haven’t excelled in economic terms. Maybe this is why.

“If your surroundings or your country are in some kind of trouble, going through change, it spills over onto the residents of the place including the musicians.”

You were limited in your means to record and promote your own music. And to tour, because the only tours that you did were basically in the neighbouring countries when there wasn’t a conflict going on. Yet, you were able to maintain a career in music for a good stretch and put out an incredible amount of albums in a small amount of time. Did you regard yourselves as fortunate? Did you look at these other artists whose music you heard on the radio or read about in magazines and thought to yourself, ‘why can’t I be like that?’

The first thing I can say personally, ‘cause I can’t speak for other people, it started with trying to be famous and becoming independent financially. I didn’t choose to become a musician, someone just forced me and said, “We’ve seen you perform at school. You can join a band.” So I joined three, four bands, local bands, and they said, “Why don’t you just join a band?” And I had one year to go at high school. This manager of the other band, two of the band were classmates, the band was called Black Souls. And the manager of the forerunner to the WITCH was Christopher Kaluba. He owned a band called Kingston Market. The drummer there at one time kept waiting for me at 12.45pm when I knocked off from school. “My manager wants to see you.” We used to keep songbooks in class – sometimes the wrong words, but we could sing. There was an Indian teacher we always teased with that, and when he came we would sing. Then I’d perform when the teacher wasn’t there and they’d say, “But your style! You can do it.” And that’s how I was discovered. Then one time he came, waited for me and gave me 16 kwacha. That was a lot of money for a schoolboy. I bought a pair of shoes and I bought the whole class some sweets and drinks. That’s how I got influenced.

The last album you did with the WITCH, With Janet (Hit Single), was that the biggest album the band released?

No, almost everything we did with the WITCH sold in Zambia. There was a time I found a small magazine from South Africa and we had a song called “Sweet 16”. A group from Malawi had played it, a female group, and it was a single, but we had no means to go and pursue that case in South Africa. But everything the WITCH did sold highly in Zambia.

So in five short years, ‘cause that record was released in 1977, we went from the very garage sound of Introduction to a very polished sound.

I should mention also there was a sixth guy in the background who contributed to the writing of the music, so his contribution helped improve the music of the band.

Left to right: WITCH road manager Billy J. Ndhlovu, Violet Kafula and Shaddick Bwalya in Lusaka, circa 1982 Courtesy of Now-Again Records

What was his name?

Shaddick Bwalya. After I left they did two more albums which were disco-oriented, but they were not bad.

You said disco-oriented.

Because that was now the in-thing. It went… [makes disco sounds], that was the way it had gone in Zimbabwe. We had gone to Zimbabwe, apparently to play in Bulawayo and then someone said, “Would you like to be back-up to Bob Marley? He’s coming to grace the occasion of the independence for Zimbabwe.” Unfortunately, our van broke down twice, we were unable to reach Harare in time. We were only able to participate in the festival that followed. We didn’t attend Bob Marley’s show, but he had come for Zimbabwe’s independence. So, while there we had a contract there and we recorded one album and a single. They’d just won their independence and we did a Shona song… [sings]. This country has got it, it is now Zimbabwe. That was the first single the WITCH sold in Zimbabwe, before the album Movin’ On. Movin’ On, when I left, Shaddick and the group said, “We can still go on, even if he leaves.” Which they did, they made Movin’ On and The Kuomboka before the band split.

That marked in a lot of ways the death of Zamrock. There weren’t many bands from the early days still going. Paul Ngozi and Ngozi Family continued releasing what I’d consider Zamrock in the early ‘80s before changing markedly. But Derrick Mbao was doing kind of a jazz-fusion thing. Rikki had moved on and was doing reggae.

There were two major issues that confused the Zamrock era: the curfew and blackout I talked about. It meant a few bands played and earned enough money to live on. Most bands were full-time musicians, so they were unable to play in the night to generate some funds, they had to do other things rather than just play music. Also, Congolese music rumba set in, together with disco. It was easier for a DJ to play different bands in this house rather than to listen to one band. The disco music was continuous, no short break. People wanted to just dance their heads off. I think those are the two things that contributed to bands splitting.

Looking back at that short period in which you and a bunch of musicians, many of whom you inspired, created the music we’re now digging out, do you think it was sincere? Were you just emulating? At a certain point had you hit upon something unique and original? I mean, are the Zamrock musicians who are left today proud of what they’ve created?

Again, I can only say it on my own; I am proud but I am not satisfied. There is always room for improvement for anything that you pursue. Zamrock would’ve found its proper direction eventually, because we were just trying to fuse something we got from somewhere. But eventually, we were going to follow our heart and play something that came from our heart. When you play from your heart, there are thousands of musicians who ask, “What is your favourite song?” It is very rare for a composer to have a favourite song, because all the songs created are pieces of you. There’s an effort, a feeling, a lot of things put in there for that song to come out. For instance, if you asked me that question, there’s a song – I had a dream four years before it happened. It was like a prophetic thing. I dreamt my girlfriend had drowned and then after about two or three years she died when the pontoon capsized. So, the song was actually almost real.

The song “Strange Dream” was one of the first songs I heard in Zamrock that really spoke with a spiritual quality. I don’t mean that in a crass way, I mean there was something more than what the words were saying. I couldn’t figure it out, but you explained some of it with the premonition that led to the words of the song.

This is closer to my heart, together with “Blood Donor”. “Blood Donor” has got hidden meaning, which maybe I can say with the artists here, because they are artists. When you compose as an artist there are two meanings. The idiomatic meaning, the idiom of the language, and the literal meaning also. Hide some meaning inside there, it’s like abstract art. You can make a lot of pictures out of the same painting. I wrote a song called “Blood Donor” and it looked normal to people, ‘cause people donate blood. But that’s not what I meant. I talked about injections, about being a doctor, but that’s not what I’m talking about, there’s something else in there. You listen to it in your time. [laughs]

By RBMA on May 21, 2012

On a different note