Love it or hate it, when most people think of metal, they think of white dudes. Even if metal was born from the blues and there are growing scenes in places like Indonesia and Peru, metal's founding fathers – Priest, Sabbath, Maiden – and most of those who've come after them have been unmistakably Caucasian. Which is why I was pleasantly surprised to find out there was a small but passionate collection of guys who knew who Lemmy was dressed like doomsday cowboys in the predominantly black central African country of Botswana.
Spared the civil wars and venal dictatorships that scar much of Africa, in its own, quiet way the Republic is something of an African success story. In 2008, South African photographer Frank Marshall accompanied a South African metal band on a one-gig tour of Gaborone, Botswana's capital.
"Arriving at the small nightclub venue where they were to play, I was greeted by leather-clad Botswanan metalheads," recalls Frank. Said metalheads had given themselves names like 'Dead Demon Rider', 'Coffinfeeder' and 'Ishmael Phantom Lord'. “As the metal scene in South Africa is mainly white, I was immediately fascinated and thrilled by the small, tight-knit subculture that had grown up in the country.”
Marshall returned a year later to make the Botswana metalheads the focus of his photography degree thesis. Marshall would come to call his project Visions of Renegades – an exhibition of his striking photographs will be held at Johannesburg’s discerning, avant-garde Rooke Gallery in July [More text and images on pages 2 and 3].
The photos show a world that's at once familiar and strange to anyone acquainted with metal. Yes, there's an obvious novelty in seeing a black African guy in an Angel Witch tee surrounded by savanna, but there are other things here that don't fit, such as the cowboy hats and leather gear these guys have adopted from biker fashion. So much attention to detail has gone into the costumes, and the Botswanan metalheads stand tall, proud and aloof. It's all wonderfully homoerotic.
"The costumes are like an arms race amongst the scene members," says Marshall. "There's a competition between them to see who can look the most brutal. When I was in Botswana, I was carrying around a few of the previous metaller portraits I'd done. The locals admired the guys in them. But they also felt compelled to raise their sartorial games."
Giuseppe Sbrana is the lead guitarist and vocalist with the band Skinflint. He's also one of the few white metallers in Botswana, and reckons that the scene's dress code is 'old school.'
"A good example of where we get the style from is Motorhead's Ace Of Spades cover," he says. "Also many metalheads in Botswana are cowboys from the villages and farms, so they mix the cowboy image with a biker metal look. Many wear hunting knives and parts of dead animals. We drink from the hollowed-out horns of cows."
Tshomarelo Mosaka – AKA 'Vulture' – is in the band Overthrust. Their Facebook page says he is responsible for "bass and growlings".