WITCH, “Zango”
By Ana Leorne · June 05, 2023 Merch for this release:
Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)

In 1984, Zamrock figureheads WITCH released what was to be their last album in nearly four decades. Kuomboka rang as a bitter swan song for many reasons, most of them deriving from Zambia’s continuous political and economic turmoil and the toll it had taken on an already debilitated music scene. AIDS would inflict the final blow, and a dream that had begun shortly after the country’s independence a mere 20 years prior seemed to be over.

The first signs of its survival arrived in the early 2010s, when Now Again’s re-releases of WITCH’s back catalog revived interest in Zamrock, introducing the genre to a global audience in the process. The resulting world tour, the subject of a 2019 documentary, was the catalyst for a free, euphoric new chapter in the band’s career, and by extension, their new album Zango. Assembled during a decade spent on the road, the album demonstrates how Zamrock is not only alive but also thriving. And the title carries as much meaning as the music itself: “Zango” translates as “meeting place,” evoking the sentiment of camaraderie and unparalleled joy that comes with gathering both old and new friends to build something together.

Among these new friends is Dutch musician Jacco Gardner who also takes over production duties. Together with Nico Mauskoviç, Stefan Lilov, and JJ Whitefield, Gardner has been a constant presence in the new incarnation of a band that has influenced his own music immensely. Keyboardist Patrick Mwondela, on the other hand, had joined WITCH shortly after founder Emmanuel “Jagari” Chanda’s departure in the late ’70s—so despite him being the only other living original WITCH member, Zango actually marks the first time we hear Chanda and Mwondela together on record. 

This cauldron of encounters is what takes Zango one step beyond revivalism, allowing for the album to offer instead a continuation of the band’s narrative. Take “Waile” or “Stop The Rot,” for example: both tracks exude the perfect marriage of Afro-funk and psychedelia that lies at the core of Zamrock without resorting to the bottomless ocean of nostalgia, incorporating myriad sonic elements like rocksteady, acid pop, and breakbeat that showcase the genre’s constant innovation and adaptability. The guest appearance of musicians from the new Zambian scene like Sampa The Great (“Avalanche of Love”) and Theresa Ng’ambi (“Malango,” “Unimvwesha Shuga”) reinforces this willingness to honor the past while never ceasing to look ahead, thus turning Zango into a celebration of former breakthroughs, continuing enthusiasm, and future possibilities. “It’s difficult to carry the genre of Zamrock,” Chanda told Rolling Stone last year. “But nevertheless, we are still representing the era.”

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