It began with a series of photographs
Botswana has seldom received much coverage from the international press. Yet this landlocked southern African country has been a symbol of prosperity and stability in the continent for years and has benefited well from strong leadership and sound fiscal policy, thus earning its reputation as the ‘Switzerland’ of Africa.
The lack of press coverage began to change about three years, though not for the reasons of political or economic struggle, nor for any of the other reasons people writing about anything in African like to write about. No, the change came about because of heavy metal!
Though the scene remains small, Botswana’s heavy metal community has made some big noise lately with two acts having performed in Europe in 2013. And now a new film, March Of The Gods, is sure to shine another spotlight on the country’s burgeoning metal scene. The documentary follows the band Wrust and showcases aspects of Botswana’s metal community, peeking into the local metal culture and the music being created.
Capturing the spirit of Botswana metal over a three-week period in May/June of 2013, director Raffaele Mosca along with producers Natalia Kouneli and Allesio Calabreis present the metal scene through interviews with bands and fans alike, as well as immortalising the elation of live performances at their purest.
“Our aim was to depict the reality of the scene as accurately as possible, presenting many different points of view and largely using the observational mode so as to offer the experience of a gig as if the audience was there”, says Mosca. “We did our best not to use an academic or journalistic approach but rather get close to the people we met through moments from their everyday life and emotions.”
The motivation behind the film was simple, and won’t surprise anyone who happened to notice that Botswana was suddenly getting some attention 3 years ago. “Everything started the day I came across Frank Marshall’s photographs from his project ‘Renegades’ in Vice Magazine. The unique local metalhead aesthetic spurred me to read up on this phenomenon, and it didn’t take me long to realise that I couldn’t but turn this story into a documentary.”
Marshall’s ‘Renegades’ series grabbed the attention of many when it debuted on the Vice magazine website in 2011. The photos depict heavy metal ‘cowboys’ dressed in head to toe leather making the most of their exposure, posing for the camera as if they knew the world was about to pay attention. The South African photographer captured the images during various trips to the country, and has since seen the photographs featured in major international media outlets including The Guardian, BBC, and CNN.
Commenting on the success of the photographs Marshall says, “I think that the images I produced provoked interest in the surface mostly. The subjects of the portraits were kind of emancipating themselves, like, ‘hey look we exist.’ March Of The Gods takes it all a step further by explaining why they exist and what they stand for. The pictures I took were just a vessel of them. I really admired the vision and sincerity of Raffaele (and his crew) right off the bat. I always hoped that someone like them would come along and really flesh out the rest of the story.”
“One thing that led to Botswana’s heavy metal scene getting so much attention is because (sic) we have created our unique metal sub-culture,” notes Vulture, one of the rockers featured in the film and leader of the death metal band Overthrust. “We have created our own identity by a combination of cowboy and old school rock n roll style; Frank Marshall gave our scene a big exposure to the world.”
The other reason the Botswana metal scene gets attention is the music itself. Leading the way is Gaborone’s Wrust. Formed in 2000, the groove metal quartet is often compared to Brazil’s Sepultura and is the main subject of the film. The band epitomizes the passion of not only the Botswana scene, but also the African metal community as a whole.
Other notable acts in the country include long time stalwarts Metal Orizon, and newcomers Overthrust and Skinflint, to name a few, but Mosca was attracted Wrust’s fire. “One of the first bands I discovered (in Botswana) was Wrust, whose music is amongst the heaviest and most original in the local scene. Their openness to collaboration, artistic quality and huge determination made them the ideal band to represent Botswana’s vibrant subculture.”
“I listened carefully to his idea and I fell in love with it,” explains Wrust vocalist Stux Daemon. “When I told the guys, it was amazing; we were super excited about the whole (thing) and couldn’t stop talking about it,” he adds. Marshall was also ecstatic to hear that Wrust would be the film’s focus. “(They) bridged the gap between contemporary metal and the rest of the world. In my view, they single-handedly created and carved out Botswana’s metal scene as it is seen today. If it wasn’t for Wrust, we wouldn’t be having this conversation right now, that’s why they’re special,” he elates.
Many in the Botswana metal community could not be more pleased with the film, and are hopeful this is just the next step in the country’s metal evolution. “For those who are not used to feeling an African vibe in metal, it’s their opportunity to experience it first hand. I’m confident that Botswana’s metal scene has so much to offer the world,” comments Metal Orizon’s Selaelo. Band mate and vocalist Dumi also adds, “We will keep doing our best to make sure the metal scene gets better and better, especially taking every opportunity that avails itself and treat it with respect.” “The film will open up a lot of people’s minds, especially in the non-metal world,” adds Stux.
As to what the next step is for Mosca and company, he is optimistic that March Of The Gods will have a strong debut in 2014. “Getting the film out there is a hard and fun process at the same time. We have already received quite a lot of attention considering the film is hardly finished, and the people who are helping us spread the word about the film are really passionate about what we are doing. On the other hand we know that our project is really niche and we sometimes find it challenging to define our target audience. We are applying to a lot of film festivals and are anxious to receive answers. So far we have been invited to one festival in the US. The next step is to attend as many festivals as possible!”
March of the Gods premiered at the Boomtown Film Festival in Beaumont, Texas, in February of 2014. For more information and screenings, visit www.marchofthegods.com
For anyone still unfamiliar with Botswana, the film crew put together a short animated infographic.
Excerpts from an interview with the director
Raffa, Wrust got to play in Italy, which was a crucial point in your film, but what did you take from that night, was the audience receptive? Was Wrust ready for this?
Wrust were undoubtedly ready to step on a stage outside their continent. Eight months later, I still think that Wrust’s gig at SoloMacello really showed their potential and that they gave their best. The audience was unexpectedly curious, excited and responsive – we even met a guy who came all the way from the Netherlands just to see Wrust live because he read about our project on Facebook.
What surprised you about Botswana?
Botswana has nothing to do with the image of Africa that we had in our minds. Botswana is a country on a race to modernisation, and one has to struggle to find elements of traditional culture. Botswanans seem to be happy about this frenetic development since everyone we met had a job and led a comfortable lifestyle, but we were shocked to see numerous constructions of massive imposing buildings and an exaggerated passion towards anything Western, or more specifically American, which goes hand in hand with the rejection of the country’s cultural roots. Coming from the middle of the European crisis, we couldn’t help but wonder how long this feast is going to last.
Are you afraid that people may just see the Botswana rockers as a novelty, and that perhaps they are overlooking their potential?
During our stay we noticed that whilst the bands are the real creators of the scene, the fans are those who attract the attention of the public. Our worry is that a big part of the fans join the brotherhood not because of their passion for the music, but rather because they feel the need to belong somewhere, impress with their attire, hang out and drink. Three weeks in Botswana were enough for us to realise that these fans are the face of the scene, and this is why the local society is often found to be against the metal subculture. However, there’s a big potential in Botswana’s metal music and I’m sure that with time and exposure the bands will get better and better and get the recognition they deserve.
How many people did you actually meet and interview, and where in the country did you go?
We interviewed nine bands and twenty individuals. We were based in Gaborone and visited Francistown and Modipane.
What do you think is the next step in the country’s metal evolution?
The feeling that both the bands and the fans have about the future of metal music in Botswana is definitely optimistic. The scene is growing and is lately attracting the attention of the international press. The bands will still have to fight hard to step onto big stages because of geographic location and the lack of funds, but things are changing so fast that five years ago one would hardly have imagined that Wrust would play Italy and that Skinflint would step on a Swedish stage. The future of Botswana metal is bright.