One thing that has always struck me is the complete absence of Metal in sub-Saharan Africa (outside of white South Africa and Namibia). However, recently, I found out about a Swedish researcher called Magnus Nilssen who had written on Metal in Botswana. I contacted him and he wrote a short piece for this blog and also sent a couple of photos. It's fascinating stuff and I look forward to the full article:
During spring 2007 I spent four weeks as an exchange teacher at the University of Botswana in Gabarone
Currently I’m trying to think through some of the observations I made in Botswana. Three things stand out as especially interesting, and in the following I’ll present, and draw some conclusions, from them. The first thing that I struck me when I was hanging out with the metal heads in Gaberone was that the metal scene seemed to be somewhat anachronistic. One example of this was that metal fans at the festival I went to played air guitar on an inflatable toy guitar. This reminds me of film clips I’ve seen of European and American metal heads who brought cardboard guitars to concerts for the same purpose in the 1970s and 1980s.
Another thing I found interesting was that there seemed to be some sort of unholy alliance between metal heads and country and western-fans! At the festival I saw several people who definitely looked like they were into country music, and when I talked to them I found out that indeed they were. I also noted that some metal heads had integrated “cowboy attributes” (such as sheriff badges, cowboy hats, and even toy revolvers) into their outfits.
The third thing that struck me was the attitude among the metal heads in Gaberone toward race. It is often assumed that “whiteness” plays an important role in heavy metal subcultures. In Botswana this is, however, not the case, since all metalheads (at least the ones I encountered) are black. And as if this was not enough, all the metal fans I talked to thought that it was strange that I, a white man, liked heavy metal...
GaboroneI believe that these observations all have one thing in common: they bring to the fore a mismatch between, on the one hand, the theoretical framework through which heavy metal is understood, and, on the other hand, the heterogeneous character of the contemporary, globalized heavy metal culture. Why did I find the metal scene in Gabarone strange? Because my understanding of heavy metal was ethnocentric - i.e. based on the idea that European and/or North American heavy metal represents 'normality', while african metal is characterized as an exotic 'deviation' from this norm.
When I interpreted the air guitar playing as an anachronism I assumed that the metal scene in Gabarone was backward, and that it had yet to
“advance” before it would reach the same level as European metal. And when I
was puzzled by the “unholy alliance” between metal heads and country and
western-fans, and by the “strange” attitude toward “whiteness” and “blackness”,
I was clearly measuring what I saw against a European/North American norm. But
why would metal in Botswana evolve along the same lines as metal in Sweden for instance? And why would
the difference in attitudes between African and European metal heads puzzle me,
when I don’t raise my eyebrows over differences between e. g. black metal-fans
and power metal-fans? Isn’t the metal scene in Gabarone as much an integral part of the global phenomena that is heavy metal as the
scenes in Berlin , London and Los Angeles?
I think that this insight is vital for anyone with an academic interest in heavy metal. Without it, heavy metal studies will not be able to grasp the totality of contemporary, globalized metal. And maybe it could also help researchers to develop new perspectives on the European and North American scenes, genres and artists that hitherto have been seen as paradigmatic examples of the heavy metal culture. Just look at hem from the “margins”. From there, they look strange…