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 series 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.

MHM Conference, Helsinki

I’ve written about the metal scene in Botswana before for this blog, and last week I was very lucky to present my thoughts to an audience of metal scholars at the Modern Heavy Metal conference in the very metal city of Helsinki Finland.

The view of Helsinki from the plane as you approach the airport is cool – it’s mostly parks and forest areas all around. Not what I expected from a capital city, though all this green land explains how the hares that are Helsinki’s main pest animal are able to live in the city. At least it’s a cuter problem than rats or feral cats or wild dogs.

The conference’s opening evening featured a speech by guitarist Alexander Skolnick of the band Testament – though not working in metal academia himself, he’s a man with a lot of interesting things to say about metal and metal studies, and his own commitment to learning and scholarship is clear. He undertook a degree in jazz performance and started a second career as a jazz guitarist and bandleader, after already being hugely successful in Testament.

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Metal in Botswana: Part Three – Other Issues, Recommendations, and Sources

This is the final (for now) entry in my series on metal in Botswana. Here are Parts One and Two.

The previous posts covered the research I have done so far; this one will be about problems with this topic, where else this research could go, my personal recommendations, and finally a list of sources.

Problems

Not surprisingly, it’s hard to research a scene in a different country without ever visiting that country. That’s part of the reason I looked at the othering, exoticizing aspects of the media’s presentation of the scene – and of course there’s perhaps an irony or a methodological problem in taking all of my sources from the media and then accusing the media of a bias, but I’m confident my point is a valid one still.

The volume and variety of information that can be gathered purely through online press and scholarly sources is limited, and there are huge gaps and inconsistencies in some of what I’ve found. Not all bands update their social media as often as others, and sometimes different social media sites may contradict each other. Encyclopaedia Metallum doesn’t list every Botswanan band that I’ve found, for example. Some bands I only know from references on others bands’ pages or gig programmes.

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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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