Metal in Botswana: Part Two – Reception

This is the second part of my series of posts on Botswana. Part One can be found here. In this installment, I’m talking about how the Botswanan scene compares to scenes abroad, and about the scene’s reception.

The notion of metal in Botswana – particularly such a vibrant, committed scene, composed almost entirely of black fans and musicians – is a strange one, as metal is traditionally seen as a white and European or American scene. While there’s an element of truth to this, I think it’s important to remember that there’s a huge and long-standing death/thrash scene in Indonesia, and scenes thrive in many places that aren’t majority white.

The striking images of Frank Marshall’s exhibit, which were one of the first mainstream exposures of the scene, also emphasise the unique fashion dominant among the scene’s fans.

This extract from metal blog Invisible Oranges describes many of the possible reactions to discovering the Botswanan scene:

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Metal in Botswana: Part One – Overview

This series of posts will draw on the research I did for, and feedback I received on, a paper I gave about the metal scene in Botswana for the ‘Metal and Marginalisation’ conference in the University of York on the 11th of April this year. Many thanks to all those who helped with the writing of the paper, and to those at the conference whose responses were so encouraging and have given me extra material to consider for the future of this  topic.

A note on usage: as far as I understand, the term Motswana is used to refer to an individual from Botswana, Batswana is used as the plural, the term Botswanan refers to groups or items, and the term Setswana to the culture or language. I’ve tried to use these terms consistently – please do tell me if I’ve made a mistake!

The southern African nation of Botswana is becoming recognised by the international metal community as one of the continent’s most active and exciting national scenes. Though composed of a relatively small number of fans – approximately 1,500 according to VICE– the scene boasts a healthy quota of active bands, and a dedicated corps of fans. The scene seems to be primarily concentrated around the capital city Gaborone, and the northern city of Maun.

To date, much of the interest in Botswanan metal has focused on the works of South African photographer Frank Marshall, whose collection of portraits of Batswana metalheads, Visions of Renegades was one of the first mainstream exposures of the scene. In this series of posts, however, I’m going to look more closely at its relationship to scenes abroad by examining the scene itself (Part One) and its domestic and global reception (Part Two), and finally a list of bands, sources, and some thoughts about where this interest could take me next (Part Three).

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Fantasy and Metal: Game of Thrones

…many [extreme metal] scene members are voracious readers, particularly of books on fantasy, religion, horror, the occult and philosophy.

So writes Keith Khan-Harris in his 2007 book Extreme Metal: Music and Culture on the Edge (emphasis mine). As a pretty embedded fan of metal, I’m not sure how aware outsiders are of this, but metallers can be big nerds. Or maybe nerds just love metal. Either way, band t-shirts are a regular fixture at comic shops, gaming stores, conventions, and other places where nerd culture takes place; I myself own more than a few polygonal dice.

Metal loves horror – that’s not surprising – but it also loves fantasy. The number of death metal bands growling about mutilating zombies can no doubt be matched by power metal groups singing about Middle Earth. The notorious Varg Vikernes once performed as ‘Count Grishnackh’ – a name derived from a minor Orc character in the Lord of the Rings.

So to celebrate the return of HBO’s Game of Thrones tonight, I’ve selected some metal tracks that celebrate the work of George RR Martin in a way that only metal can – with RIFFS. Continue reading