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Swahili-tongued devils: Kenya’s heavy metal at the crossroads of identity

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With an interested global audience noting the rise of rock and heavy metal throughout Africa, Internet-savvy Kenyan musicians have taken advantage of this attention by promoting their bands to audiences over the world. One aspect that separates Kenyan rock and metal musicians from their western contemporaries is the confrontation between tradition and modernity, which is a debate also being discussed in various metal communities throughout Africa. Fearful of being noted as a novelty, many acts throughout Kenya are reticent to infuse tradition into their music. As accommodating as heavy metal is to such infusions, many omit tradition out of respect for their influences, or, more so, to make a bold statement in their communities: one of rejection, and defiance of their cultural upbringing. But others feel the inclusion of musical traditions is imperative and the only way the world will ever know that African metal bands exist. Many also feel the infusion of tradition would allow for a broader interpretation of rock and metal in their own communities without ostracizing their newfound global identity as ‘rockers’, and metalheads’. From over twenty interviews conducted in the country, this article addresses these questions: Can heavy metal music be a connection to Kenyan culture for audiences both inside and outside of Africa? Is language perhaps a way into the culture of African metal musicians, and, if so, how is African language being used in Kenya’s metal communities? Furthermore, how has the cosmopolitan identity of Kenyan musicians survived the turmoil of the past and influenced their music?
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Keywords: African Music; African Studies; Kenya; Nairobi; Swahili language; heavy metal

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Independent Researcher

Publication date: 2016-09-01

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  • Metal Music Studies is the journal of the International Society for Metal Music Studies.

    The aims of the journal are:
    • To provide an intellectual hub for the International Society of Metal Music Studies and a vehicle to promote the development of metal music studies;
    • To be the focus for research and theory in metal music studies – a multidisciplinary (and interdisciplinary) subject field that engages with a range of parent disciplines, including (but not limited to) sociology, musicology, humanities, cultural studies, geography, philosophy, psychology, history, natural sciences;
    • To publish high-quality, world-class research, theory and shorter articles that cross over from the industry and the scene;
    • To be a world leader in interdisciplinary studies and be a unique resource for metal music studies.
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