Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: today is not only a big day for those of us metalheads and music creators living in sub-Saharan Africa, but also for one Edward Banchs, author of the book Heavy Metal Africa. Residing in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Edward, armed with his MA African Studies qualification from SOAS (University of London) and a passion for heavy metal and the mystique of Africa, set out on a new journey in 2011 which started with a simple message transmitted digitally across the Atlantic ocean.
That single message quickly gained the momentum of a landslide. Five years of research and gathering of information, plus five unique trips to visit multiple territories and well over a hundred interviews with musicians, fans, and various personalities, and Edward has delivered Heavy Metal Africa which releases for shipping today. On the eve of this momentous occasion, we caught up with Edward to discuss – for once – not African metal, musicians, and it’s people; but this time, we discussed Edward and his own story.
“Thank you again for being the first to respond to me on September 17, 2011. Heavy Metal Africa actually happened!” ~ Edward Banchs (author, Heavy Metal Africa)
Heavy Metal Africa: Life, Passion, and Heavy Metal in the Forgotten Continent is a book which sought to open up the story of an emerging heavy metal culture in the unlikely setting of African territories. It starts, of course, in South Africa; one of the continent’s leading economies and widely regarded as the most “Westernized” of African nations and hence the logical starting point to explore something which is thought to be a product of Western society. It’s chapters take on a geographic structure, with each focusing in on territories defined by Geopolitical boundaries and questioning the development and meaning to the populous of heavy metal culture there. At M4A, we find it hard to believe that any other non-African person alive could have invested so much energy and personal resource into this subject of study into the subject of African metal.
“I have traveled to the African continent about seven times; five times just for the purpose of researching the book. In the book’s introduction I explain my interest in Africa a little, and my trip to Cape Town in 2009 that led to learn a little more about African metal. In 2012 I returned to South Africa for the purpose of sitting with musicians, fans, and media personalities to talk about African rock and metal. I spent my time between South Africa and Botswana speaking to bands most of the days throughout my trip. There were a few travel days here and there, but for the most part the trip was incredibly productive. In 2013 I came back to visit Kenya for a month. For 2014, my visits were split between Madagascar, Mauritius and Reunion Island for a total of two months. And in 2015 I visited Zimbabwe for ten days, and Namibia for two weeks, though, sadly, I was unable to accommodate Namibia in the book. My apologies to the wonderful fans and rockers of Namibia.” ~ Edward Banchs
Edward describes the inception of the idea to write a book as being in 2011 – two years after his initial discovery of a metal culture in Cape Town – where he started actual research and simply never stopped. So began his travels to and from Africa in order to satiate his appetite for information, and to acquire it from first-hand sources to settle his expectations for accuracy.
“I initially thought the book could be told through interviews and gathered news clippings. I was wrong! Virtually nothing existed in print on African metal, except for a series of photos from Botswana in VICE magazine. That was it. Once I started connecting to musicians, I felt that I had to just go to the places I wanted to, and get the story myself. Plus, it shaped the voice of the book. It went from a more academic style, to a narrative told in the first person. It took a bit of convincing from a few friends, but once I reformatted some of the chapters to include personal pronouns, and first person storytelling, Heavy Metal Africa became more comfortable. In fact, after I visited Kenya, I could honestly tell you the interviews changed for me as well. No longer were they strict ‘question and answer’ formats, as much as they were me laying a recorder in the middle of the table and having a conversation with people.” ~ Edward Banchs
As a life long metal fan, Edward states “I LIVE for this music. It is so much of who I am, and I’m proud to call myself a metalhead.” Thus, coupled with his growing fascination and passion for Africa as an adult, he found a way to bring his passions and studies together to manifest an expression of himself:
“I lived my life without knowing much about the rest of the world until my mid-20s. I wanted to change that, and pursued an interest I had in the continent. I could not stop asking questions about Africa in my head, so much so that I went forth and enrolled in university at the age of twenty-six and kept going. I achieved a BA in Political Science from Florida Atlantic University, and got an MA in African Studies from the University of London’s ‘School of Oriental Studies’. I focused my education on the politics of post-colonial southern Africa. I just love Africa! I really cannot answer why per se; I’m just extremely comfortable devoting the rest of my life to learning more about this wonderful, and misunderstood continent.” ~ Edward Banchs
“The metal aspect came by curiosity as to whether or not this music existed in Africa. And if so, where? I was going to Zimbabwe and South Africa to learn more about those two nations’ political histories, and found metal! A personal curiosity – which I think I did a good job of addressing in the book – was how the music fit with the specific political situations of the nations I visited, and how that shapes the identity of the musicians in their locales.” ~ Edward Banchs
With the motivations within Edward’s personal capacity understood, we wanted to know: why a book? Why not simply a personal pilgrimage to visit and experience these places and their people? We asked Edward if he expected that his research and finding should have an impact on readers outside of African territories, and what should – or he hoped would – that be:
“I really hope that a non-African reader puts the book down and can now see Africa a little clearer. Being from the USA, I know how people perceive the whole continent, and how broad that brush is. I am confident that readers will put down the book and see how honest Africa is, and that Africans are not oblivious to the world around them.” ~ Edward Banchs
Of course, we who were born and raised on African soil; we may often take for granted what we are surrounded by – the beauty of the place, in the tangible and the intangible senses, even encroaching on the spiritual. We are so easily distracted by the turmoil of a place coming to terms with itself in a macroscopic sense that we often miss what visitors do not. Edward describes his visits as something very emotional, having had the opportunity to connect with so many people in ways that were unexpected.
“All I wanted to do was get a better understanding of metal in Africa, and the challenges facing the musicians; but I left with some friendships that will last a lifetime. These countries are no longer places on maps, they are places where I have left pieces of myself, too. I want to get back to Africa every single year. I’m always looking forward to visiting new places, finding new streets to walk down, and new corners to turn. I always enjoy coming back to places I have been to already. I now have friends in all the countries I have visited for this book, and I’m in constant contact with many of them still. I have plans to keep returning to every single place for personal reasons.” ~ Edward Banchs
A part of those reasons, as it turns out, is that Edward does not feel that this body of work is truly complete. He confides in us that there are still plenty of places he would like to visit and explore, which are likely to result in updates to the book in later editions. This sentiment, of course, already dismissed our planned question of “what will you do now, with your spare time and money; that that the book is complete?” To further his previous statement, he added:
“African metal has grown so much since I started writing this. I’m personally learning more about bands in new corners of Africa, and have plans to address this. I’m also completely fascinated by the history of rock and roll in Africa that I have already started planning a book on the matter; Heavy Metal Africa focuses mostly on ‘the now’, but there is so much depth with this music throughout all of Africa that I cannot ignore. Who knows, you may see me in a pub in Cape Town next year tracking down members of 70s era rock bands!” ~ Edward Banchs
Else-wise, Edward describes all of his time and money as being spent on new books, and more metal records.
“Is it possible for a person to have too many books, and metal records? NO!” ~ Edward Banchs
We offered Edward an opportunity to have any final say or personal message to our readers, to which he responded with:
“First of all, I love South Africa. Yes, I know… and no, I’m not crazy. South Africa is awesome. I feel so much at home there. But please, more veggie burgers, and more of those Spur chips with All Gold tomato sauce. SO GOOD!
I must say, since plenty of South Africans may read this, after my visit in 2012, a lot has changed – for the better! I was in Johannesburg last year during time between my Zimbabwe and Namibia trip and was fortunate to attend the Krank’d Up festival, and WOW! I know that those who read the book will note that a few great bands have appeared in the scene and are making an impact since my research trip like Adorned In Ash and Riddlbreak, but I was fortunate to get a great story from those who I met; those whose work allowed so much of what is happening now to occur. I know for fact that the first post-apartheid generation to play metal is very happy to see this scene explode. Do not take what you have for granted South Africa. AT ALL!
And, this book not only happened because of the desire to answer some personal questions I had, but also because of everyone in Africa that made it possible. I cannot stress how thankful to everyone that I met along the way that gave me their time, stories, and passion of metal with me. It was a humbling experience to meet everyone, to be invited into homes, practice spaces, and into your lives for a brief moment. I have to thank everyone again for making Heavy Metal Africa a reality.” ~ Edward Banchs
With all being said, the final question – and perhaps most important of all – where do we get our hands on our own copy of Heavy Metal Africa?
As a self-published book, Heavy Metal Africa is currently available from a limited number of sources, though definitely not out of reach for most who would want a copy. Edward himself is committed to supplying copies via direct sales and shipping personally, which can be arranged via the official Heavy Metal Africa channels listed below. It is also available via the Amazon US and Word Association Publishers websites. There is a local lead developing with South African www.raru.co.za as well, with two links including US imports, then UK imports. A third lead appears to be developing on the site, but is not confirmed to be shipping yet.
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