The Women of Botswana’s Metal Scene

Way back in the middle of last year when I originally wrote about the metal scene in Botswana, and in various versions of the paper I have given since then, I expressed an interest in seeing more work covering the women of the scene. This article on Hyperallergic gives us just that, and again it draws on the work of a photographer – this time that of Paul Shiakallis.

Shikallis’s seriesĀ Leathered Skins, Unchained Hearts is the first work I’ve come across focusing specifically on female Motswana metalheads. It seems to support most of what I have written about Motswana metal – women participate in the scene, and their experience seems broadly similar to that of male fans. Fans report a strong sense of camaraderie within the scene, the metalheads are sometimes thought of as Satanists by other Motswana, and the difficulties of navigating scenic participation alongside mainstream life are felt particularly strongly by female fans. Female metalheads dress in a similar fashion to the men, and adopt similar pseudonyms

The notes on Shikallis’s website suggest that participation in the scene is, for these fans, “a blunt rebellion amidst the ordinary of their lives”, and Hyperallergic agrees, saying it provides a means of self-expression in Botswana’s “conservative patriarchal society”.

Interestingly, Carey Dunne’s Hyperallergic article avoids the typical othering language to be found in much writing about the Motswana scene, which usually exoticises some aspect of scenic practice in order to exaggerate the scene’s African-ness. However it does instead exoticise their femininity – as frequently happens in discourse surrounding women in metal, where female musicians are either exalted or denigrated on the basis of their gender more than their ability, and female fans are singled out as being different to the majority male crowd. These women are not just fans like any other, but are referred to as queens – while male Motswana rockers are never called kings. Of course as a doubly minority identity within metal, and as a challenge to “all orthodox prescriptions of what it means to be black and African”, such titles are powerful and empowering. It’s a difficult for me analyze this, but it’s surely a point worth considering.

I am really looking forward to seeing more work on the Motswana scene, and more responses to Shikallis’s series as the first engagement with the scene’s intersection with gender. I have yet to see any evidence of female musicians in the scene, bar Skinflint drummer Sandra Sbrana; if scenic participation truly is a form of rebellion as Shikallis and Dunne both suggest, then surely more women performing metal in Botswana is a likely next step.

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