African Metal: Zimbabwe adds a voice to the rising crescendo

Dividing The Element press 2015

What does it mean if it is called ‘African Metal’?

To most, this means only that a band originates from within the geography of continental Africa, and has nothing to do with the sound, characteristic, or the musical instruments itself as being in any way African. In fact, it has been argued that although Africa is producing plenty of artists within the metal genre who are fairly high in caliber – high enough, perhaps, even to stand tall among those who are internationally recognized – there are very few bands who don’t sound like anything else already available from any other place around the world. In this regard, African Metal is said by many to be lacking in identity.

The tide is turning, however, albeit slowly. In fact, it has been for decades already, but at such slow pace as to have been regarded insignificant until recently. There have always been those few bands who had been proud to utilize their native tongue in lyrical content, such as the likes of Beeldenstorm, Insek, Mind Assault, Kadawer Dialoog and others in South Africa; and those who have introduced lyrical themes rich with local folklore such as Skinflint from Botswana or Scarab from Egypt. From Uganda, Vale Of Ammonition deliberately modified the spelling of their name to more accurately match their colloquial for the word “ammunition”. Then there are those who have decided to take their identity as ‘African’ a whole step further by incorporating instrumentation and styles into the realms of heavy metal and to forge forward with new sounds as unknown elsewhere on the planet. In South Africa we have heard the recently reformed Ill System who merge highly rhythmic nu-metal elements, African percussion, and reggae-esque or even South African township styles into some tracks. In Tunisia, we’ve heard Myrath bringing into progressive metal those elements which transport the mind back to North African Kingdoms of Antiquity.

Whilst we have only referenced a small handful of examples, it becomes clear to us that the term ‘African Metal’ is taking on a new meaning, and that this transformation is gradually accelerating.

What brought our recent attention back to this phenomenon to warrant an article was the recent release of a powerful track by a band from a nation which, until this release, we had no record of any heavy metal activity taking place. It was to our greatest surprise and pleasure to see Zimbabwe stepping forward into the African Metal arena with Dividing The Element.

Hailing from the country’s capital city of Harare, Dividing The Element emerge from a uniquely troubled environment where many challenges are faced which cannot be easily comprehended by metalheads from other parts of the world. A stringent legal framework implemented by the iron grip of the nation’s leadership prevents many freedoms within the country, and thus has a chokehold on the development of a healthy local scene such as those seen in neighbouring countries like South Africa and Botswana. Whilst steering safely clear from the subject of politics in an otherwsie highly volatile environment, Dividing The Element have conjured up an approach to satisfy both their metal-ness, and their African-ness.

We contacted the band to inquire about the song’s title, it’s meaning, and the general approach of the band towards creating metal.

“The language is Shona, one of Zimbabwe’s mother tongues. The decision to sing the song in Shona was inspired by the intention to appeal to other fellow Zimbabweans who either already listen to metal music or have never even heard of the genre before, and to hopefully spark their interest to encourage further growth in terms of the extremely tiny metal scene that currently exists here; kind of like metal evangelism.” ~ Chris ‘Mandebvu’ Van (vocals, guitar, Dividing The Element)

“The song is about life and death essentially. The word ‘Upenyu’ actually means ‘Life.’ It was inspired by a friend who lost his newly born daughter to illness. It was introspective of the quality of life and the time that we spend on this earth, no matter how fucked up, short or long, it means something to someone somewhere.” ~ Chris “Mandebvu” Van

“I sometimes think that metal has become very isolated within itself to the point where I don’t really know what it means anymore. Like for example, can anyone tell me exactly what sludge metal is? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking it, I just don’t know what it is, and there seem to be many conflicting opinions out there about what other people think it is. Anyway, I think for me, developing a sound relies heavily on what speaks to you. Whether the end result sounds either exactly like Lamb of god or otherwise something that nobody has heard before; if there’s inspiration there, then draw from it ‘coz you never know. As far as our sound for the rest of the material on the album is concerned, there are distinctive similarities there, but we’re not done yet so I can’t say exactly what’s gonna happen. But I am excited!” ~ Chris “Mandebvu” Van

At M4A, we are looking very much forward to hearing more of what will be delivered from Dividing The Element in the future. To keep up to date with the band and their progress, check out their official facebook page.

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