Welcome to the next stop of my worldwide tour of hard rock. This week I’ll be looking at bands from Africa and Asia.
This section required a fair amount of research. As far as Asia went, I’d already heard of a few metal bands from the Far East, particularly Japan, but I thought I’d have some trouble finding bands from the rest of Asia, particularly Central Asia and the Middle East. However, this was not the case. The amount of bands from the Middle East surprised me and I did find one band from Central Asia as well.
Africa was an interesting one. Many music historians believe that rock music originated in Africa, and having looked at a lot of the evidence I am inclined to agree with them. Just as I wanted this whole series of articles to be about the metal genre in particular; how it has been received worldwide and what it has evolved into, Africa gives me an opportunity to cast an eye back in time and see where it came from.
An article I found on the NPR Music website states that “The bluesy scales and shuffling rhythms American rock fans grew up on also exist in West African traditional music, via the history of the Atlantic slave trade”. This is certainly a theory which makes sense, with early rock & roll having its roots in blues. If you’re still not convinced, then check out this clip of Malian guitarist Vieux Farka Toure jamming in Bamako. Tell me he doesn’t rock.
Definitely elements of both rock & roll and traditional West African music, I’m sure you’ll agree.
Also, my cousins would kill me if I talked about African music and didn’t mention this guy. This is the legend that is Toumani Diabaté. He is known as the Godfather of the Kora (which for those of you that don’t know is the large instrument you see him playing in this clip). Toumani is also from Mali but spends a lot of his time touring, both playing and teaching music. Here at a gig in New Zealand, he gives instructions on how to play the aforementioned Kora in the form of a song called Jarabi.
And here’s a clip of my cousin Josh Doughty playing the Kora. Josh has been a student of Toumani’s for the last 4 years or so, and I’m sure you’ll agree those lessons have paid off!
But anyway, enough with the history lesson. Here are a few more familiar-sounding clips from bands across Africa and Asia that I’ve managed to track down for your enjoyment:
This is a clip of the band Neblina (whose name means “fog” in Portuguese). It’s a song called “Mysterious Sky” and is taken from a live show played at Elinga Téatro in Luanda. The name of the show was “Kurt Is Dead”, and you can certainly pick out some grunge influence in there. The sound quality in this video isn’t the best but I couldn’t find any better clips of them. Apologies for that.
Bangladesh is probably the last country on Earth you would think of when you think of heavy metal, but Artcell are flying the flag for a nation with more than its fair share of problems. Going back a bit, some of you might remember George Harrison and Ravi Shankar’s Concert For Bangladesh in 1971. Despite being a success, Bangladesh has since been in the musical wilderness. That was until Artcell came along in 1999 and did something completely new in a country that maybe wasn’t ready for heavy metal, but people started to take notice and now Artcell have established following and inspired a few other bands, and as a result have created a metal scene from nothing, in one of the most unlikeliest places imaginable. Hats off to them.
Quite fitting that Botswana should follow Bangladesh in this list, as it is another very unlikely place. Wrust were exactly what I was looking for when I began my search for African heavy metal bands. Botswana is in the particularly odd situation of being an African country with a thriving metal scene, when countries all around them seem to stick to R&B, hip-hop, and traditional African music. This is an example of music that has come full-circle. And they’re pretty good too. Overall, these are one of my favourites from this section.
It seems ironic to me that four of the countries which have the word “Democratic” in their full titles are actually dictatorships. China is no exception, throughout the years often been accused of questionable treatment of its own people. But let’s not get into politics, I’m Raven Garcia. I don’t do politics. But I’d like to have seen the Chinese government’s reaction to Beijing thrash metal outfit Overlord, seen here performing their song “Sheng Ming Zhi Shi”, which means “Poem of Death”.
This is Wyvern performing “Kingdom Of Gold” live at Metal Accord 2007 in Cairo. I happen to know that the Bangles song “Walk Like An Egyptian” was written as a description of the way people walked when trying to keep their footing on a ferry during a storm. I went to Egypt in 2006. The day before I went a ferry sunk in the Red Sea. Strange or what??
Another place I’ve been to (In fact the furthest from home I’ve ever been). While in Chennai (Madras), at a Western-style shopping mall called Spencer Plaza, I was surprised to see a few Indian goths, mostly teenagers, hanging about on the top floor. I was surprised that they could wear all that black in such heat. Other than that, I saw no sign that Indians had even heard of heavy metal. That was, however, until I discovered Rikterskale. This can only be a good sign of things to come for one of the fastest developing countries on Earth. Will there one day be an Electric Ballroom in Bombay?? Who knows.
This song is entitled “Bhoy” and according to the video description is about “The raging fight between the good and the evil that reside in one’s own self”. Sounds pretty hardcore. So, it’s looking promising for India’s rock scene.
Incidentally, one of the best rock & roll moments of my life happened in India. I rode an Enfield Bullet down Anna Salai (Mount Road) – the busiest road in Madras and probably India. All with no license, crash helmet, insurance or even knowledge of how to ride a motorcycle. You can read about that and the rest of my experiences in India here.
Acrassicauda (Which means “Black Scorpion”), started to play heavy metal music in Baghdad back in 2001, when the country was still under Saddam Hussein’s regime. They were cast in an international spotlight after a feature by Vice Magazine and also a feature length documentary entitled “Heavy Metal in Baghdad”. Despite being around for almost a decade, the band only released their first album earlier this year.
Following their success and exposure to the Western world, the band started to receive death threats from radical Islamic extremists claiming that they worshipped the devil. The band fled their home country, heading first to Syria and then Turkey before a rendezvous in the United States where they are now based.
Here’s them performing “Garden Of Stones”.
Japan was the easiest one for me in this section. Already being a fan of pretty much everything else from Japan, I started to listen to Japanese metal at around the same time I started to listen to metal. In 2002 I was more into Linkin Park, Papa Roach and System Of A Down (Who themselves are of Armenian descent). But then I heard of Lost Eden, who were doing something along similar lines with the melodic style of death metal I had yet to become fully accustomed with. And being that they were from Japan made me like them even more. This is my favourite track of theirs, entitled “Squeeze”.
I must also mention The Black Mages. This is a band formed by none other than Nobuo Uematsu, who did the music for pretty much every Final Fantasy game and is a hero of mine. They perform songs from the Final Fantasy series, often with the addition of heavy metal guitars. Unfortunately I cannot show you any videos as embedding has been disabled due to the music itself being a property of Square Enix rather than Uematsu himself. But if you like music, and you like Final Fantasy, you’ve probably heard of them anyway. If not, look them up.
Another Islamic country, although its attitude towards Western music seems much more relaxed as I’m told that Jordan does have quite a reasonably sized heavy metal scene. This is Tyrant Throne and you can also check out a group called Bilocate if you want to hear more Jordanian rock. Anything’s better than hearing another single by the country’s namesake Katie Price.
If the first thing that springs to mind here is Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat singing “Throw the Jew down the well”, then think again. Kazakhstan has a rich and vibrant musical history with Eastern, Russian and Turkish influences, but recently a few metal bands have started to pop up too. This is Ulytau, one of them. I’ve got to be honest and admit that I don’t know much about these guys, apart from the fact that they opened for Manowar last year in Gorky Park. So they can’t be that bad. This is one of their instrumental tracks called “Two Warriors”, which draws upon traditional Kazakh music and also classical influences, and has a decent video too.
And finally, we’re back in Africa. I’ll admit that for a continent which is widely believed to have been the place that rock & roll originated, I was having trouble finding African metal or even rock bands. But somebody alerted me to these guys, Murfy’s Flaw. They sounded okay but to be honest I thought they had more of an indie feel about them, and the sound quality in the video again wasn’t up to much, but I thought I’d include them anyway. Thank you Alpha for the recommendation.
One of the bands I first heard about only yesterday and was rather impressed by. Cromok, a thrash metal band originally from Malaysia but now based in Australia, are old-school traditionalists of thrash metal, combining simplified riffs and minimalist drumming overlaid with fancy guitar solos. You can easily pick out the similarities to Slayer, who were obviously one of their major influences.
Another thrash metal band from the same region. Again, fairly impressive. My friend Mikael is currently living in Singapore. I wonder if he’s heard of Deus Ex Machina?
For a refreshing break from all those vuvuzelas, check out Wonderboom – seen below performing their hit “Best Side”. Apparently these guys have been going ages which is quite a rarity among South African rock bands. The video kicks arse too.
Another band I’ve only just discovered. This is Crash performing “My Worst Enemy”. Hotter than a steaming pot of Kimchi-Jjigae, if you ask me. I’ve heard they also do a cover of Metallica’s “Blackened”, although I’ve yet to locate a video of that. Based on the one below though, it’s gotta be worth a listen.
Or “The People’s Republic of China”, as they now like to be known. This band are called Seraphim, and are a melodic death metal band from Taipei. I have a friend, a certain Mr. O’ Grady, who spent quite some time in Taiwan as an English language teacher. He said he had never heard of them, so this one’s for him really. I find the singer’s voice quite haunting to say the least…
United Arab Emirates
Okay, so far this list has been pretty hit and miss. But here’s one band who definitely fall under the “hit” category. Hailing from Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, here are death metal band Nervecell performing “Human Chaos”. I have to say I am becoming increasingly surprised at the number of (really good) metal bands coming out of the Middle East these days.
I’ve saved one of the best until last here (thanks to an obvious alphabetical advantage). Sure, I could have jumped ranks like I did earlier with putting Mali at the top of this list, but this is my site, hence my rules. Okay??
Evicted are a great example of rock fusion, combining rock guitars with some African sounding elements top create, as their own Youtube description states: “Fun, Fast, African Afro rock with attitude”. It certainly is all of those things, however if you’re predominantly into the really hardcore metal bands then you’ll find it a little too “fun” for you. Although it is hard to listen to and not enjoy, so I guess it does what it says on the tin.
I hope you enjoyed reading this article. Next stop is South America and the Pacific!!