ALBUM REVIEW: The WITCH – ‘Introduction’: cracking Zambian garage nugget unearthed

YOU’RE a crate-digger, right? I’m a crate-digger. I love blowing the dust, physically or metaphorically, from some recently unearthed classic.

And like me, you might be forgiven for thinking that pretty much every garage-rock nugget you need has long been dusted down for its rightful place in the rejuvenated canon.

You bought Pebbles religiously, even following out into the European country themed later volumes. You dabbled with Electric Psychedelic Sitar Headswirlers, tracked back into Las Vegas Grind, even picked up a couple from the weird German series Turds On A Bum Ride? Check. You’ve got CDs and/or vinyl by Pearls Before Swine, The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band, Picadilly Line, KAK, the works; travelled to South America in the arms of Os Mutates, Traffic Sound. It’s been documented, remastered, repressed.

Well Christ, weren’t we just so wrong, you and me both; because Now-Again has picked up the privately pressed debut by Zambian garage rock outfit The WITCH to give you that grin of new rockin’ discovery.

So what do we know about The WITCH? Not an awful lot, but it is a really interesting tale. Rightfully speaking, the band name is an acronym – standing for We Intend To Cause Havoc which, with tunes like this in a newly independent and booming nation, they surely fulfilled.

The album, Introduction, was actually not only their first release but the first album recorded and released by a Zambian band, period. History made. It was initially privately pressed by the band and sold only at their gigs; yes, you can go get an orig, there is one on Discogs, a little … pre-loved, twould seem, in Denmark, and a snip at 600 euros. Or: you could be sensible.

The band had a massive following in a country free and ready to party, and went on to record two more albums, In The Past and Lazy Bones! in the garage-rock groove before the departure of singer Emanyeo “Jagari” Chanda and his replacement with the vocal pair Patrick Chisembele and Christine Jackson led to a curveball swerve towards the fresher sounds of the middle of the decade, although 1977’s self-titled fourth album had plenty of beguiling Afrobeat in its grooves.

Movin’ On, from 1980, did just that too, and embraced the disco groove, massive slap bass and all; one final album, 1984’s Kuomboka, with a massively shuffled line-up, was a melange of glam disco, electro and Afro-soul. And that was that.

Introduction has emerged fitfully since; Now-Again reissued it themselves back in 2013. Sad to report that Now-Again licensed the record in from Emmanuel “Jagari” Chanda – as WITCH’s last living member. But boy oh boy it is ever time to get another chance to get your hands on this.

A rare shot of Witch live on stage

And why? Well it’s excellent, preening, struttin’ garage, is why. It all begins, as an album titled Introduction may well be, with .. c’mon. You can guess. “Jagari” Chanda takes turns to introduce the band over a three-chord turnaround base with a deliciously tinny Farfisa, and it’s very Seeds, which is a great thing, of course. Later on in the tune Kims Mbewe lets rip the fuzz guitar and you can only kinda howl in affirmation.

The band take a moderately chill pill for the following instrumental, “Home Town”, a slow bluesy groove like a Chocolate Watch Band or Shadows of Knight flipside, with that rhythm section loose enough to let the groove fly but dependable enough to let Kims and organist Paul “Jones” Mumba take their turns pushin’ out of the pocket, dripping acid-soaked wah-wah ‘n’ deep fuzz and jazzy vamps respectively.

“You Better Know” is a straight-up trash box stomper, which you’d already probably know had it emerged from Indiana in late ’65; we’ve embedded “Feeling High” down below, a slower brooder in the romantic vein, just post-British invasion. But boy can Jagari sing out: “Feeling high / I’ve got your love”, the simple hook.

“Like A Chicken” is a proper Texas punk, Jagari going full-bore for those transatlantic bluesy vowels, Big Bill Broonzy to Jagger and back again to the Beau Brummels, all yearning, the fuzz break taking it where you need to be.

Flip the wax – you plumped for the wax option, right? And we’re into “See Your Mama”, the guitar wavering in a brittle fashion, belying the primitive production, but then don’t we just adore that atmosphere? Musically it seems to have one foot in the first stirrings of The Who’s artrock pomposity, all sus4 chords just vaulting out of mod, before moving into a crisp blues of the ‘woman done gone’ tradition.

“That’s What I Want” boogies on, a back and forth of two chords, devoted to the travails of wantin’ and needin; as all the best garage should be; while “Try Me” is a scorcher of a psych instrumental, one which Ed Cobb would’ve loved to have got his grubbies on.

“No Time” has proto-Afrofunk chops, I detect, a taut and staccato R’n’B number with some excellent overdriven guitar, “Just come here / For a good time / You need my love / To make you see,” the equally clipped and Stonesy chant toward the end. And that is the end, we is done; signing off on some shoulder-boppin’ groove.

Quite the album tis, and pretty much necessary for anyone who loves that raw garage boogie from the Shadows of Knight end of the spectrum. Now, surely there can be no more greats left out there …. surely?

The WITCH’s Introduction will be released by Now-Again Records digitally and on vinyl on February 19th; get those white drainpipes and chelsea boots over to Bandcamp for a pre-order, ya hear?

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