March of the Gods-Botswana Metalheads provides a fantastic glimpse into a music subculture few know anything about.
While metal is associated with white bands and fans, in Botswana, heavy metal has developed into a small but strong group of African metalheads and metal bands determined to achieve worldwide success and recognition.
In 2008, photographer Frank Marshall followed a South African metal band to their show in Botswana’s capital, Gaborone. There he met hard-core metal musicians and fans, and a year later he returned to chronicle this “tight-knit subculture.” When his exhibit, Visions of Renegades, debuted, photographs of Botswana metalheads were met with scepticism. But Botswana metalheads were the real deal and unapologetic about their identities. Now, with the documentary, March of the Gods: Botswana Metalheads, Botswana’s strong metal scene finally gets to share their own story, and it’s a great one.
Freedom, brotherhood and living life on one’s own terms is the running desire among those that have found themselves in love with heavy metal. Leather clad, brash, and even considered scary and threatening by their conservative communities–many discuss their frustrations around being misunderstood—they are emboldened by their shared passion.
Beyond the initial novelty factor of African metalheads, director Raffaele Mosca takes us into these middle-class metal musicians everyday lives—mechanics, teachers, devoted fathers, yet all raging rockers by night. It’s refreshing to see black men and women, and their communities, presented in a non-stereotypical way. Beautiful Botswana is a part of Africa we, in the West, rarely get to see or learn about–unless you bypass mainstream media via documentary film festivals like RIFF.
March of the Gods fluidly showcases a wide variety of bands, revealing the expansive diversity within the scene. It’s also inspiring to see white metalheads crashing around to African metal music—music does unite!
“I was never surprised by the fact that there’s black people in Africa who listen to metal, I was surprised and fascinated by how they transformed this subculture into something of their own.”
TWM: What made you decide to do this documentary on Botswana metalheads?
RM: I was researching themes for a documentary and I stumbled upon Frank Marshall’s pictures on Vice magazine. I just thought it would make for a nice movie.
TWM: Are you in the metal scene?
RM: I listen to metal, among other genres.
TWM: Why is the film called March of the Gods?
RM: The movie takes its name from the tour for the launch of Wrust’s latest record, also from the fact that Botswana metalheads are famous for marching and parading in the streets of Gaborone.
TWM: How receptive were the bands and musicians in the making of this documentary? And how has the documentary been received?
RM: Everyone in Botswana was really helpful and enthusiastic, they believed in this project as much as we did. The bands and the metalheads loved the final product. I think everyone is surprised to be getting so much attention.
TWM: There was, and still is, this disbelief at the idea of African metalheads. (The same disbelief still happens towards white and Asian artists in the hip hop scene). Why do you think we are still so amazed by the fact that music transcends skin colour and borders? Is it mainstream media/radio that sells that idea or is it that we are not globally exposed to all that’s out there?
RM: I think both. Hip hop, rock, and metal, are sold to target groups. There’s also an identity connected to a specific kind of music, which I think is fine but it shouldn’t be used as a tool for segregation. I was never surprised by the fact that there’s black people in Africa who listen to metal, I was surprised and fascinated by how they transformed this subculture into something of their own.
TWM: When did metal start making its way into Botswana?
RM: Nobody knows exactly, some say it was brought by western poachers who gave away tapes to locals. Some say it was radios from South Africa. But I think it was brought to Botswana by a band called Nosey Road.
TWM: Are there radio stations that play metal in Botswana?
RM: There’s a radio show every Saturday afternoon that plays rock music, not long ago it was hosted by, a local Dj who supported and fostered many of the talents of the local scene. Sadly he recently passed.
TWM: While rock music is big in other parts of Africa, metal has taken the deepest root in Botswana. Why do you think this has happened? Why is it so particularly appealing there?
RM: That’s the million dollar question. To be honest, I still have no idea and nobody was able to explain it to me either.
TWM: It was briefly discussed, but metal does have branches within it that are heavily based on racist content and ideologies. As some of these artists grew deeper and deeper in the scene, did any of them discuss apprehensions towards the music they were growing to love?
RM: I’ve been listening to extreme metal for ages and it’s pretty unusual to find racist content, most of the bands are apolitical. That, of course, doesn’t mean that racism doesn’t exist in metal, it’s just so rare that I don’t think it affects the bands in Botswana at any level.
TWM: Community, and a sense of belonging, is a big part of what appeals to many of the musicians and fans. The term “brotherhood” was used more than once. Are the musicians there familiar with the Afropunk movement in the U.S. and UK.?
RM: Unfortunately, I don’t think they are, it never came up during the interviews. It would be amazing if someone from the Afropunk movement could reach out to them.
TWM: There was much discussion around the leather cowboy attire, and that if you dress like a cowboy, you should be making country music–that rock is not about image but the craftsmanship. And the suggestion that the ever increasingly dramatic image may be taking over, and away, from the actual growth of the music scene. Do you think that increasing attention will only continue this pattern of image over content?
RM: It’s indeed a risk, it depends on the kind of attention they are going to get in the future. If media are looking for an exotic portrait of a ‘weird’ scene then I’m afraid yes. If we focus on the music, well, that’s a whole other story, one that I prefer.
TWM: Is there a “Botswana metal sound”? What are some of the elements that sets it apart?
RM: The bands are very different from each other, it’s really hard to define a ‘Botswana metal sound.’ One of them probably has a truly original sound and that is Metal Orizon, the godfathers of rock music in Botswana. They mixed western rock music with Tswana rhythms and beats. I hope more bands will follow their example and bring the uniqueness and the beauty of their culture into Metal and rock music.
TWM: Do you have any new doc/film projects in the works?
RM: I thought I had it but I had to reconsider my plans. At the moment, I’m travelling to find new stories to tell.