Film Review: Death Metal Angola
After a fourteen-year struggle for independence, followed by a more than quarter-century long civil war, Angola is a country sunken in devastation. With healing and reconciliation still far in the distance, wounds and destruction are clearly visible throughout the landscape — a vast territory crying to awaken from a long dark night. In this situation, a group of rock fans and musicians persist in organizing the first national rock concert, an event to be remembered in the future as a milestone in the struggle for freedom and peace.
In a country considered the “epicenter of the African hardcore music scene,” to bring together the best in Angolan death and thrash metal and melodic deathcore may seem an easy task. We discover what an odyssey it turns out to be. The site chosen for this raucous undertaking is Huambo, a place charged with symbolism: the center of the Angolan civil war for almost three decades (1975-2002), the second biggest city in the country after the capital (Luanda) and nowadays a desolate nowhere of ruins and mines fields. Nevertheless, thanks to its central geographical position, it is envisioned as the focal point from which Angolan rock will radiate beyond its borders.
Huambo is also home to the Okutiuka Orphanage, an institution run by Sonia Ferreira and Wilker Flores, two loyal rock fans determined to bring together the best local rock bands and inspire hope and a sense of future in the Okutiuka’s 56 residents and the entire nation. In a country with the lowest life expectancy in the world (2010: 38,48 years), a new wave of rock musicians is making a point about the immense possibilities of music in the reconstruction of a damaged country. With the advent of peace, rock has become one of the most significant weapons in a young Angolan revolution working to salvage a national identity lost through years of internecine conflicts.
Jeremy Xido’s Death Metal Angola documentary follows the concert from its preparatory stages through to its end, shining a light on the stars of the country’s vibrant hardcore underworld and reflecting, at the same time, on the changing realities and expectations of present-day Angola. Rehearsals, interviews, and shooting with the protagonists bridge the distance between the audience and an unknown chapter in the life of a forgotten region in a misrepresented continent, all the while accompanying musicians, technicians and organizers in the long and arduous quest to make the rock concert become a reality.
The organizers and musicians face obstacles at every step: failed calls to apathetic public and private institutions for help and funding, continuous blackouts, lack of good roads connecting Luanda with other cities, and so on. Almost anywhere else, these setbacks would have killed the project, but the unyielding personal engagement of the indigenous hardcore community—as well as the possibilities for communication and collaboration opened up by new technologies—manage to save the day. This becomes clear in two poignant instances: when Wilker Flores pays 2,000 dollars of his own money to save the concert and in the devotion of Yuri Almeida, technical director of a satellite telecommunications company who uses the instruments in his reach to spread the news about the concert.
Co-organizers Sonia Ferreira and Wilker Flores work hand-in-hand with members of the Association of Angolan Rock, headed by the above mentioned Yuri Almeida, to bring to Huambo the most outstanding bands from the capital and Bengela, the main port of slave trade during the colonial rule and now a fertile breeding ground for new groups. Dor Fantasma, Before Crush, Black Soul, Instinto Primario, Café Negro are all different groups with a single interest: conquering freedom of speech through musical extremism. Their music represents a cri de coeur against the brutal effects of war and at the same time reaffirms the African roots of rock.
The concert finally takes place as planned on May 21st, with a five hour delay due to technical difficulties, terrible audio and low attendance. But it is a great victory nevertheless; we see how a growing community of rock lovers has combined their forces to create a major musical event without any thought of remuneration. And yet the reward they get is priceless: looking at the astonished faces of the orphans attending the concert, a singular moment in their lives, they see that it has all been worth it, because, as Wilker says: “rock means poetry, love, song, lifestyle, joy and happiness”, all simple things that have been stolen from too many generations of Angolan children...
At Okayafrica we had the privilege of watching this piece, presently in post-production; we hope it will reach American screens soon.