A head-first dive into Africa’s heavy metal scene

A head-first dive into Africa’s heavy metal scene

Author Edward Banches discusses his new book, which examines the hard rock and metal scenes in five African countries: Botswana, Togo, South Africa, Kenya and Ghana.

“What shocked me the first time I went and what still shocks me now is just the scope of the metal scene in Africa, and how deep it is,” says author Edward Banchs. As a lifelong metalhead whose first album was Poison’s Open Up And Say…Ahh!, Banchs thought he knew everything there was to know about metal. After visiting Africa, “I quickly realised I didn’t.” 

Banchs first went to Africa in 2007 to visit a friend in Zimbabwe. Stopping off in a local pub, it wasn’t long before the music changed from the usual vanilla pop to songs by the likes of Swedish punks Refused and metal titans Machine Head. Seeing his surprise at the soundtrack, the bartender explained how “there’s quite a few of us here who like this kind of heavy music.” 

He visited Cape Town in 2009 and was taken to a metal pub where he learnt about the local, homegrown metal scene. “That sparked something within me,” Banchs says today from his home in Pennsylvania. Banchs, with his MA in African Studies, found himself speaking to a handful of local artists, looking to maybe write an article about the African metal scene but countless interviews later with artists from across the scene, his first book Heavy Metal Africa: Life, Passion, and Heavy Metal in the Forgotten Continent was done. The follow up, Scream For Me Africa! was released this year on Intellect Books. 

Bound by the Moon from 2011 Visions of Renegades series. Photo by Frank Marshall.

What was the vision for Scream For Me Africa! going in? 

The first book was about how these scenes formed, the history of each individual metal scene and the challenges that the musicians were currently facing. What was missing was a full dialogue about what was really motivating a lot of the musicians though. Sure, we all liked the music but there was always something deeper to it. So, for Scream For Me Africa!, I wanted to know what the intention of these artists was with their lyrics. 

And was there a shared intention? 

This is the third generation since colonialism, but the effects are still present throughout Africa. Incessant poverty, the fact these countries never got a fair start, there was just a collective ennui throughout every country I visited. The first part of the book talks about the bands being activists while the second is about those living in these authoritarian societies, something handed over from the colonial governments. It’s easy to go to somewhere like South Africa and think it’s just like America because it’s so developed but young people are still afraid to do certain things because of bullying from the government. 

Throughout the book there’s a sense that these bands are telling their stories, because no one else will. 

They are voices that were never considered. Not only did the west use African people as human capital but we also used their resources to build our systems and wealth. Every country in the world that’s wealthy has one thing in common. Every country in the world that is poor is also tied together by the same commonality. The value of having African voices now is that we get to hear their side of the story.

Trooper from Frank Marshall’s from 2011 Visions of Renegades series who passed away in 2015.

How different is African metal music to the stuff coming out of the UK or America?
Musically, it’s not that much different at all. They all heard their first Iron Maiden record and said ‘this is what I want to do’. The music that’s being made in Africa is exactly where we are now with metal in 2022. It doesn’t matter if you’re in America or Togo, metal fans want to talk about the same bands. The ability to access resources and musical equipment is an uphill battle for a lot of musicians in Africa though. The Internet has levelled the playing field a bit, in terms of bands in the Global South can now access Western music and vice versa but the fact remains, across Africa there are inconsistencies with the internet, electricity and the ability to access people who know how to record metal music properly. 

Killswitch Engage regularly talk about how much they sucked when they started out and how their first tours were awful. But they were lucky to be able to grow up in front of people. These bands aren’t going to be that fortunate. They have to immediately change the perception of what it is to be African as soon as they walk onto a stage that’s not in Africa as well. 

What are the gigs like? 

Apart from South Africa and neighbouring countries like Botswana and Mozambique, there’s not really a touring scene. Everything is really isolated but as for the concerts, every line that you can imagine that was used to divide in the colonial era, is blurred when you’re at a metal show. It’s beautiful. The metal scene has become a safe haven for women who come from the very conservative Afrikaans communities and people who would usually be stigmatised for being LGBTQ+. There are 43 different ethnic groups in Kenya and countless different languages but you can hear them all at a single metal show in Nairobi. The one thing all they all have in common is that they like metal. 

Ludo Dignified from Shiakallis’s 2015 Leathered Skins, Unchained Hearts series. Photo by Paul Shiakallis.

Metal has always been a progressive genre. Bands like Rage Against The Machine spoke about radical politics while groups like System Of A Down and The Mars Volta honoured their heritage. Is that why there’s so much metal in Africa? 

It’s because it’s an expressive genre and it’s a genre that doesn’t shy away from those things. I got into metal because it aligned with the views that I got from my mother, who was a feminist who used to protest Klan rallies. Through that music, I was able to meet people who were like-minded and it opened up a whole new world for me. Metal has done that for a lot of other people as well. Sepultura are really popular in Africa because they grew up under an authoritarian government in Brazil and early albums like Chaos A.D. really talk about that. Their song ‘Refuse, Resist’ has become an anthem for people in Kenya and South Africa, because they know what it’s like. It’s very much a form of protest music. 

Which African metal band would you recommend as a starting point?
The first band that you meet in the book is Arka’n Asrafokor and they’re the only rock band in Togo. They use native instrumentation and perform in their pre-colonial language. I just think their music is just pretty sick. When you play music with that sort of traditional instrument, you’re inviting the listener into another world. You have to stop and consider something that you haven’t heard before and you have to have a conversation with the music you’re listening to. They speak so eloquently about how we need to take care of the Earth as well. They’re asking people to consider what they’re doing with the planet because it’s all of ours. 

What do you want Scream For Me Africa! to give the reader? 

I would just like them to have a conversation that they haven’t had before or consider things that they’d never considered before. The conversations may be uncomfortable but it needs to happen because we don’t live in this world by ourselves. I’ve already been told by one reviewer that my book was too leftist though. He asked me if I thought the conversations were balanced. What’s the balance here? We, as the west, have been having conversations for 450 years. It’s about time we listened to others. 

Soweto’s Demorogoth Satanum performing live in 2019. Photo by Christelle Duvenage.

Scream for me, Africa! is out now on Intellect Books. 

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