Carl Marsh speaks to the man behind this newly released documentary about WITCH – short for We Intend To Cause Havoc, they were Zambia’s biggest rock band in the 1970s, and Gio liked them so much he’s now their manager too!
I have to thank you for introducing me to the music of WITCH – it’s a crime their music never made it around the world. Is that why you made the film?
Gio Arlotta: Sure. For me, that was the main reason for doing the film after hearing this incredible music. It was something that, as you say, it was a shame that nobody [outside Africa] really heard, although it was starting to be known more thanks to the reissues around 2011. Those started shining a light on the music, but – why was it done there? What was the socioeconomic background that led that to happen? I wanted to find out more clearly.
And although certain things in my mind were a certain way, I got there and they were a bit different. Like, I thought it was very rebellious music because acoustically – when you hear it – it sounds very brash. But when I speak to Jagari [lead singer of WITCH], or the people there, they’re like, “Well, we had our independence already for 10 years, our battle had been won, but these are the sounds that we liked. We liked it heavy, and that’s why we played it like that.”
The band had to play under curfews most of the time though, didn’t they?
That’s right. The neighbouring countries to Zambia were fighting some civil liberation wars, and Zambia was already liberated – they were harbouring some freedom fighters in the country, I think from Rhodesia mainly. So what happened at a certain point is to avoid cities being bombed, they would do a curfew and a blackout: planes would fly over, but they couldn’t see. Obviously that affected live shows, although there were some illegal ones here and there. That mainly meant bands used to play during what they called ‘teen time’, which was from ages 13 to 19 [laughs]. And most people went to work, so there are only kids, you know, and that kind of killed the scene a little bit.
And you loved the band so much, you’ve become their manager! The only issue is the current restrictions, albeit not quite like the 1970s for the band…
The last time we toured, we played in a show in California in February 2020. Shortly after that, everything happened. We were meant to do another tour that June, which got postponed to June of this year – and that’s been postponed to March 2022. But we’re looking forward to making that happen.
It’s not been easy because we were gathering some momentum and it was starting to happen, with us selling out most of the shows. And now we’ve had to take a breather. But at the same time, who knows if it’s not a blessing in disguise – because now the film is coming out, and then we’ll be touring after that. So more people hopefully will know about it.
I’m sure that will be the case. Can we talk about Jagari – is he back in Zambia? What’s he up to, still writing and making music?
He’s doing everything, as usual. He’s still mining – he does that. What we must understand is that to us, being a miner is something crazy. But in Zambia, it is something quite normal. It’s a land very rich in natural resources, so it’s pretty common that there are people who mine.
The music we’ve done together and the tours have brought in an income, but it’s very sporadic. In a way, mining is kind of the same – you find the streak, and then you get it! But, for the time being, until things go to the next step, he’s still doing mining, but at the same time writing music. We have hopes to record some new material soon. At the same time, we’re waiting to see each other again.
WITCH: We Intend to Cause Havoc is out now via digital platforms and in select cinemas; on DVD from Fri 26 July. Info: here
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