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Desert sounds – Kalahari metalheads pursue a dream

Botswana’s heavy metal bands defy criticism – and heat – in their search for artistic freedom

See more of Frank Marshall’s photographs here

In the remorseless Kalahari heat, leather is not the most obvious choice of attire. But to a dedicated band of Batswana metalheads, it’s the only way to dress. The country’s heavy metal scene, imported from neighbouring South Africa, may be niche but its fans are passionate about their style. Dressed from head to toe in black leather, sporting cowboy boots, hats and exaggerated props, they draw some curious looks on the dusty streets.

“People think that we are rough, evil creatures, but [metal] teaches us to be free with expression, to do things on our own,” said Vulture, the vocalist of the band Overthrust. He says there is a long way to go before the genre is considered mainstream, but that audiences have grown steadily in the past decade.

TKB, bassist for the band Skinflint, which is based in the capital of Botswana, Gaborone, says they are becoming a more familiar sight. “The culture doesn’t accept heavy metal fans, the people all look at you, but nowadays even the young boys know that this person is a metalhead.”

Botswana got its first heavy metal band, Metal Orizon, in the early 1990s. The group are still writing music and performing live today.

Their drummer, Selaelo, said the dress code was an important part of the act. “[Around] 1998 the unusual rock star outfit caused a lot of curiosity among hostile members of the public. This curiosity from non-rock lovers, I would say, brought more attention to the metalheads. Now that they had more attention, the rockers took [it] a step further by acting and posing in public. It was now more of a fashion, or the ‘in thing’ for those who loved the subculture.”

Selaelo added: “Some say our music is just noise and some perceive us as violent people … but that has not dampened our spirits. We will continue to show our worth in society and to follow our hearts for the love of metal.”

Metal Orizon are still pursuing their dream – to be able to make a living from their music.

There’s not much airplay for metal in Botswana, with only one radio show that broadcasts for 50 minutes a week on national radio. Fans keep up to date through word of mouth, swapping tapes and social networks.

Though attendance at concerts is small in comparison to the west, the scene has slowly built a steady fan base. To date, no western heavy metal act has performed in Botswana, and no Botswana metal act has performed outside the region.

The most popular band, by far, is Wrust, who have toured South Africa and played as a support act for the Brazilian heavyweights Sepultura. Wrust say they draw on western influences, with a local twist in the lyrics and delivery.

But vocalist Stux Daemon said traditional culture was harder to integrate. “You are going to try to use your surroundings to influence your music, your thoughts and your songwriting, but [Setswana culture] is not something we focus on,” he said.

The images are currently on display at the Rooke Gallery in Johannesburg

• This article was amended on 11 February 2013. The first paragraph referred to the metalheads as Botswanan. The main term for the people of Botswana is Batswana. This has been corrected. © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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