GABORONE, Botswana — Botswana is a nation that has made great strides at modernization and industrialization. The economy has been characterized by consistent growth and is sometimes known as the Hong Kong or Singapore of Southern Africa. Much of the success could be attributed to the country’s vast diamond deposits, making Botswana far richer than most other African nations.
Unfortunately, the country also has one of the highest HIV/ AIDS infection rates in the world at roughly 25 percent. As of 2012, UNICEF estimates that 5.2 percent of young adults, ages 15-24, are infected with the deadly virus. UNICEF estimates that approximately 120,000 children in Botswana have been orphaned by AIDS deaths.
However, concerted efforts of the Botswana government have greatly subsided the prevalence and spread of the virus. There has been a proactive and comprehensive approach towards providing free medicine and education for and about HIV/ AIDS. A special emphasis has been placed on educational outreach towards youth culture.
In 2007, African heavy metal bands Wrust and Skinflint performed at the The Sound of Hope Music Concert at National Stadium in Gaborone, Botswana. The event was strategically coordinated to coincide with World AIDS Day to help fundraise and educate about the disease. The show was co-sponsored by many international organizations, including the European Union, the National AIDS Coordinating Agency and the U.S. Embassy.
Organizers of the concert stressed youth outreach from the musical acts stating, “Prior to the concert, all local bands set to perform will be provided with training to improve their understanding of prevention and ways in which messages can be included in their music and stage performances.”
All proceeds from the concert were donated to the Bana Ba Metsi School, which assists children orphaned by AIDS. Methods such as the concert were seen as great successes educating youth culture.
This past May, a three-day metal festival called Overthrust Winter Metal Mania took place in Ghanzi, Botswana. In 2010, the Botswana metal group Overthrust worked to organize this annual benefit concert, which unites 12 bands and hundreds of fans from Botswana and other African countries by a common musical interest.
Since then, the festival has expanded its aspirations and now gathers donations in the forms of clothes, food and other supplies for needy, orphaned children. Held each spring, the concerts promote philanthropic themes of “Ride and March Against Poverty,” “Rocking Against Alcohol Abuse” and “Healthy Body Benefits.” While still a relatively small event, the festival has grown steadily in attendance each year and is headlined by other up-and-coming groups such as Skinflint.
This is significant because the event is unsponsored and the musicians themselves have funded the concerts. The musicians are hoping that the exposure and publicity from the festival will provide more opportunities in the future. The efforts of Overthrust Winter Metal Mania provide an example of the ambition and commitment these African metal bands have for their music and to their communities.
International attention toward African metal music has been steadily growing in the years since the concert. While investigating a separate project entirely, photojournalist Frank Marshall stumbled upon the heavy metal ma rock culture in Botswana and was inspired to begin a new project entirely. The up-and-coming heavy metal group Wrust was the subject of Marshall’s exhibition and was published in VICE magazine in 2011.
Inspired by Marshall’s “Renegade” exhibition, an independent documentary following Wrust called “March of the Gods” was filmed and debuted February 2014 at the Beaumont Film Festival in Texas. The film received recognition for its unique niche and intrigue and was awarded “Best International Documentary” at the People’s Film Festival in New York.
Overthrust is featured in “March of the Gods” and in response to the mounting publicity of the ma rock culture, lead guitarist Tshomarelo Mosaka, also known as “Vulture Thrust,” had this to say: “One thing that led to Botswana’s heavy metal scene getting so much attention is because we have created our unique metal subculture […] 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.”
As a result of their newfound exposure, Wrust was invited to play at Solo Macello, an Italian metal festival, which marked their first performance outside the African continent. Skinflint has also broken out of Africa and performed at Sweden’s Wax & Gold festival. This past April, Skinflint was featured on a BBC Travel show further broadening their appeal and popularity.
If these African metal groups are this philanthropically driven without fame and publicity, worldwide attention could greatly enhance their efforts. Frank Marshall sees the potential in African metal music and states, “The last frontier of rock and metal music is African now, is what people are saying, so they are very interested in seeing this scene grow from its, sort of, infancy and seeing where it could go.”