Rock music in Africa: how heavy music lives in a world where religion is strong

Trapper performing at Mutare Music Festival

How heavy music in Africa was born and developed, and what to expect in the future.

The development of the Internet, social networks and applications such as 22Put and TickTock have allowed Western popular culture to spread across continents and countries. While pop culture has received a strong boost in Europe and Asia, African countries have become a truly fertile ground for spreading Western cultural trends and values.

Heavy music like metal, hard rock and other related styles were in unprecedented demand in Africa. Not surprisingly, the golden age of metal and rock on the black continent came to the Republic of South Africa, one of the most developed countries in Africa.

Today, every corner of the continent is developing its own popular metal and rock scene. Heavy music lovers can be found in the former Portuguese colonies of Angola and Mozambique, metal’s popularity can be traced back to English-speaking countries such as Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Tanzania. In East Africa – Kenya and Uganda – is emerging its own rock culture. At the same time, bands playing the heavier styles of metal (black metal, death and doom) are becoming popular.

The birth of metal in Africa

The birth of metal and rock in Africa began at the turn of the 1980s and 1990s. In the late 1980s, the West began to boycott the apartheid policy, which eventually led to social and state changes on the continent. Progressive African youth were looking for a way out of their negative emotions, but did not want to resort to violence and weapons.

South African politicians, reoriented towards the West, unknowingly gave the green light to the development of heavy music in the country. According to Edward Banhs, author of “Heavy Metal Africa: Life Passion, And Heavy Metal in The Forgotten Continent”, the power and anger of extreme metal quickly resonated among African youth seeking methods of protest.

“In the late 1980s, heavy metal bands emerged in South Africa. These guys independently composed, recorded and distributed their work to young people,” writes Banhs. – “Soon the country started producing many different music groups. This encouraged young groups not only to compose new material, but also to organize full-fledged concerts and festivals. The fledgling music industry was on a level comparable to Europe and America. Little by little, American promoters are turning to Africa: managers and organizers are testing the ground, bringing in the masters of the genre, Metallica and Sepultura, and observing the interest and reaction of the public.

In the mid-1990s, German label Morbid Records signed two bands from South Africa – Voice of Destruction and Groinchurn. These groups became pioneers, showing European listeners that African metal is independent and original. The members of the group traveled the territory of the Republic, increasing the popularity of heavy music not only throughout the country, but also throughout the continent. At the same time, collections of the best songs of African metal bands were published in Europe (see the compilations of the series “The Death of Africa”). As a result, it benefited African heavy music, increasing interest in it in the West.

By the early 2000s, heavy music had spread smoothly across the continent, with bands like Rock of Ages from Kenya, Neblina from Angola and Malagasy thrash metallers Sasamaso becoming popular.

In the end, the stronghold of metal in Africa was Botswana, whose population does not exceed 2.1 million inhabitants. The country’s success on the rock scene is due to the large number of musical groups and the creativity of South African photographer Frank Marshall, who shot a series of photos with local metal bands dressed in outfits in the vein of Judas Priest or Iron Maiden.

rock music in africa

Today, more than a billion people live in Africa in more than 50 countries. Despite the general lack of development (on a global scale) of the African scene, it should not be forgotten that Native American musical styles such as jazz or blues come from the cultural heritage of the black continent.

One of the first popular bands in Africa is considered to be the South African pop-rock band Rabbitt, formed in 1972 in the city of Pretoria. The group released an album and in 1976 released the single “Charlie”, which reached the top lines of the African charts and attracted the attention of the British press. Rabbitt broke up in 1978 and Trevor Rabin (the band’s frontman) joined Yes, where he later contributed to the 1983 hit “Owner of a Lonely Heart”.

Despite few studies, the African rock scene is rich in talented musicians playing a wide variety of rock styles. Matt Cohen, an American programmer and music lover who has lived in South Africa for 20 years, notes that the state’s music scene is structured in such a way that new bands are playing in clubs and bars every night. These bands easily hook the listener with their distinctive sound and are sure to have a growing fan base day by day.

The development of rock was also influenced by the already mentioned apartheid. The continent’s population, fleeing tyranny and cruelty, moved to the United States and Britain. From there, people sent records and tapes of popular music. At the same time, the influence of African culture had an impact on the sound of Western rock bands: the children of the Black Continent, getting used to the new place and getting used to local life, participated in the creation of new groups.

A great contribution to the development of African rock in the 1980s was made by groups such as éVoid, Asylum Kids, Dog Detachment, No Friends of Harry, Bright Blue and Voëlvry, which combined national colors and elements of western culture. However, the heyday of rock in South Africa, and with it all of Africa, came in the 1990s, when the continent turned its eyes to the West. Local musicians, unprepared for a number of reasons to play extremely heavy styles, discovered the works of Nirvana, Alice In Chains, and later the music of Brit-pop bands.

Besides rock, Africa has also been influenced by other styles. Gradually, musicians absorbed the heavy rock sound characteristic of indie, fusion and pop-rock styles. For example, the well-known group Blk Jks, well known in South Africa, performs a mixture of indie, fusion and hard rock in the spirit of King Crimson, and the quartet Good Ones play light music, based only on the vocals and acoustic guitars.

Impossible not to mention the phenomenon Die Antwoord from Cape Town (South Africa), whose rap-rave compositions have gained popularity around the world. And even if the works of the duo hardly correspond to the terms “metal” and “rock”, the fact remains – Die Antwoord is incredibly popular, which is in favor of the entire music industry of the black continent.

The problems of heavy music in Africa

Despite the help of the Internet to popularize the creativity of local bands, today African rock and metal face misunderstanding from others. While musicians in the United States and Britain experienced such public rejection in the 1960s and 1970s, Africans are only now beginning to treat performers and fans of heavy music with disdain. Popular television and radio stations attempt to distance themselves from these groups. The problem, as in the rest of the world, is the stereotypes that accompany such creativity.

Nevertheless, the African population looks at metalists and rockers with more negativity than people from other parts of the world. One of the leaders of local rock clubs with the pseudonym Trouper says people around them perceive rock and metal fans as satanists, judging them only by their appearance and taste in clothing.

“We try to explain to people that we are united by the love of music and the sense of brotherhood, but so far the public looks at us with disdain, does not understand the essential”, continues the reasoning of a young man named Talliban, in his spare time serving in the South African Armed Forces.

Contrary to people’s rejection, photographer Frank Marshall notes that African metallists, rockers and even bikers are some of the kindest and most passionate music fans he’s ever seen.

Young people inspired by the examples of Black Sabbath, AC/DC and Sepultura also lack quality material. Chris Lalako Yagami, who plays in popular Kenyan band In Oath, says his band has struggled to break through to listeners due to poor quality recordings and active opposition from radio stations.

The media (radio and television) do not support the efforts of local musicians. Local radio and TV stations don’t pay attention to what’s going on in the rock and metal scene, they don’t play their music. According to African broadcasters, this music is informal and does not appeal to ordinary listeners.

“Africans are just as sensitive to trends: what is popular in the world is also popular here. That’s why metal is in the underground, not of interest to the general public. And you know what? It suits us!” shares Victor Tebusike, guitarist and vocalist of Uganda’s only doom metal band Vale of Amonition. – “Heavy music is not to everyone’s taste, and that state of affairs will almost never change. Metal and rock remain a subculture, and the association of heavy music performers with satanists won’t disappear out of thin air where religion is the mainstay of society.All the negativity around these styles doesn’t help. sales and business success.

The future of African rock and metal

Music experts believe that heavy music from Africa is a promising phenomenon. Once known to a wide range of listeners around the world, the importance of the African scene can only increase.

“The rock and metal fan communities are strong. We have known each other practically since we were babies, ”continues Chris Lilako Yagami. – “Most of the concerts are organized and supported by local groups of heavy music fans. Yes, there aren’t many of us, but that’s enough to ensure concert attendance and the satisfaction of all parties involved.

Despite the lack of TV and radio support, the situation is slowly starting to change. Not so long ago, CNN and Vice devoted their material to the African scene, which favorably influenced the popularity of local bands such as Wrust, In Oath and Vale of Amonition. The increased interest of the international listener has given a new impetus to the continued musical exploration of African youth.

Wilkis Flors, the author of the documentary on heavy music from the black continent “Death Metal Angola”, believes that the continent’s modern musical culture is at the beginning of a great journey. “In 15 to 20 years, the local scene will reach a significant scale and people will start talking about how African bands inspired them to get into music,” Flors concludes.

Like any other business, music development takes a lot of work and time. Critics, listeners and musicians all agree that heavy, alternative African music is yet to come.


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