Up from the Underground

5060942255_b637964972_zA couple of weeks ago, the Mail & Guardian ran a story of mine on the 1970s Zamrock scene. Sub-Saharan Africa isn’t much known for its rock’n'roll, but for a brief time in the late 1960s and ’70s every young guy from Lagos to Lusaka wanted to be Jimi Hendrix or Eric Clapton. Zambia, which makes few headlines in the west, was the cradle of this scene, hence the name. It was a heady time–these guys were full-on rock stars, with platform boots, groupies, and wild parties–but the economy tanked, the AIDS epidemic hit, and the scene was snuffed out.

I profile Jagari Chanda, probably the most famous Zamrock star of his day, who sang for a band named the Witch. He now ekes out a living as a gemstone miner in the bush. He’s looking for another shot in the music business. I hope he gets it.

It is a Saturday night in Kitwe, a rough mining town in Zambia’s Copperbelt, and the bar is growing louder by the minute. The DJ plays American hip-hop, the beer flows and crowds of young miners, grizzled expatriates and working girls shout over the din.

Once upon a time, every head would have turned when Emmanuel “Jagari” Chanda walked through the door. Tonight, nobody realises that the barrel-chested sexagenarian in the leather jacket was once Zambia’s biggest rock star.

(The photo comes from the cover of a self-released compilation Jagari put together. For years, hard-to-find releases like this were the only way to hear the music. Now-Again records, though, has begun reissuing albums by the Witch and other Zamrock greats.)