Dubai International Film Festival 2012: Death Metal Angola
Posted on Sunday December 16, 2012, 13:49 by Simon Braund in Under The Radar
When you’re leafing through a festival catalogue, trying to decide which movies are worth a look, a title like Death Metal Angola is always going to get your attention. And a good job too. A riveting documentary from director Jeremy Xido it explores, as the title suggests, the vibrant death metal scene in the West African country of Angola. That Angola has a death metal scene - or any metal scene at all - is surprising enough, but what is truly amazing is how extreme rock music is helping to heal the wounds of a devastating civil war and to give a sense of purpose to a generation physically and psychologically scarred by the conflict.
Apart from the musicians themselves, at the heart of the film are Sonia Ferreira and her partner Wilker Flores who founded and run the Okotiuka orphanage in the city of Huambo, the epicenter of the death metal explosion.
Empire spoke to Xido about Death Metal Angola, which has its worldwide premiere in Dubai tonight.
How did you first become aware of the death metal scene in Angola?
I was acltually working on a completely film in Angola in 2009, about a railway line through the country being rebuilt by Chinese construction workers. The line went through Huambo and I was there and desperately need a cup of coffee, and there’s only one place in the whole toen where you can get a decent cup of coffee; it;s where the ex-pats go, where the military go, where the deep mining folks go. I was sitting there having my coffee and there was this young man on the other side of the terrace in a button down short and dreadlocks. He beckoned me over and we got talking and I asked him what he did. He said, “I’m a musician.” I said, “That’s great, what do you play?” And he said, “Death metal.” I was like, “What!?” I wanted to hear him play so he said I should go that night to The Orphanage, which I assumed was a dance club.
And you show up and it’s a real orphanage.
Right. I show up and there’s no electricity, he’s strung some cables from somewhere to his amplifier and it’s pitch with these shadowy figures of little kids running round. I went with some Chinese construction workers in an SUV so we lit it up with the headlights and it was just this bombed out factory. They started to play and I was totally blown away.
Did you think there was a film there straight away?
No, because I still had this other film on my mind. It was just another of these weird amazing things I cam across in Angola. It wasn’t until I returned to Angola to film that I called them up and said, “I’m back in Angola, maybe I could come and shoot some film of you.” They said, “That’s great you’re coming because we’re organizing the first ever national rock concert in Angola.”
So you had the perfect finale to the story.
Yep, that was it.
Why did death metal take hold in Angola? It’s ironic that a genre so seemingly nihilistic should be responsible for rejuvenating the country.
If you listen to the lyrics, there’s something about the phantasmagoric nature of them and in Angola that’s what people know.
So it’s cathartic?
I think it’s incredibly cathartic, and it’s a way of speaking about things that are unspeakable.
As they say in the film, death metal originated in Scandinavia and given its elements of Western classical music, how do the musicians make it Angolan rather than a copy of European death metal? Does it have kinship to traditional African music?
If you ask Wilker (the movement’s prime mover and guiding force), he’s adamant that rock music is African - slaves were taken to the United States, they invented Blues, which eventually became rock and roll which made it to England and then back to the States and then to Scandinavia. But the rhythmical roots of it are African, and his belief is that this is rock music returning to where it came from - and it’s bringing these young musicians back to themselves, it lets the know who they are. This is music that grew out of the slave experience, and there’s a rupture in history which means they’ve lost touch with their cultural roots. They think this music that is super-popular around the world is something foreign, but it’s not, it’s theirs, they’re reclaiming it.
In a wider context, what significance does the staging of the first rock concert in Angolan history have for the country?
It’s huge. Sonia said to me afterwards, ‘You know Jeremy, it may look to you, coming from New York, like this tiny little thing. But in a country like this where we’re still suffering from the war and there’s no electricity and no access to anything, for these kids to realize they can do this and be this is huge, the biggest thing you can imagine.”
Have they had more concerts since?
They have one every year, and they’re growing all the time.