Inked in Blood, by Sarah Brinks
Death Metal Angola is an aptly named documentary. It tells the story of the first national rock concert held in the country of Angola. The concert is created, promoted, and run by a couple named Sonia Ferreira and Wilker Flores who already run an orphanage that houses 56 orphans. Angola won it’s independence from Portugal in 1975. After which followed a 27 year long civil war which finally ended in 2002. The war was intensely violent leaving over 500,000 people dead, thousands orphaned, thousands as amputees, and there are a huge number of landmines still hidden in the ground. Huambo, a city in the interior of Angola, was practically destroyed by the war. Huambo is where Sonia and Wilker live and the site of the concert.
Death Metal Angola is a powerful documentary about the power of music and devotion of a small group of survivors. Death metal became popular after the war as a means for people to express themselves. Filmmaker Jeremy Xido does not shy away from showing you the ugly truth of life in Angola but he also let’s the people his film is focusing on speak for themselves. Life is really hard there. The orphanage has only one source of water; a hand pumped well that they have to haul water from for food, bathing, and laundry. The buildings they live in are all crumbling. The city is in ruins. Early in the film you see a man with a metal detector searching a grassy field and marking of an area with an unexploded land mine. But they have music, and laughter, and hope. The motto at the orphanage is, “We are the future”, and they paint it right on the wall.
The film highlights many of the Angola metal rock bands. They show clips from their music videos and we see them practicing and talking about why they like death metal and how important the rock festival is. One of the best things the film does is they subtitle the songs as they are played or practiced. As a result you not only understand the lyrics but you understand the meaning of the songs. The metal songs are very loud, very abrasive, and the singing is mostly screaming into a microphone, but most of the songs are about very complex feelings. Through death metal they are able to work through the tragic losses they have experienced, the anger they feel about the war, and how hard it is to come back after almost three decades of civil war. All of the musicians and fans they interview describe metal as being about love, hope, and happiness. This an interesting contradiction the more common association of the occult, chaos, and destruction. The musicians in Angola are using this aggressive medium to spread a message of hope and positivity. The night before the concert they have meeting to discuss how important it is that they behave well as not to perpetuate the stereotype of destructive rockers.
Death Metal Angola is also an informative documentary mostly about what has happened to the children as a result of the war. Sonia is mostly the mouth piece for these stories. She speaks to the truth of living in a society where violence is so commonplace that death becomes a part of everyday life. She speaks about rock music and how it is the easiest music for her to “get in her head”. The music is able to connect with her feelings in a way that other music can’t. Wilker who is the main force behind the concert explains how metal started in Norway and how it uses techniques from classical music and combines it with African drum beats and becomes a whole new type of music. Sonia and Wilker are two pretty incredible people who are deeply compassionate about kids and music. There are many scenes of Sonia keeping the orphanage running and Wilker giving metal lessons.
The final act of the film show the concert coming together. There is comedy in watching them wait for equipment and try to get it to work. There is tragedy when things don’t go well. Finally there is joy in seeing it all come together. One overly excited man in the crowd shouts about how important the festival is for Angola and his people. You can see the happiness on peoples faces as they listen to the music and you get the feeling that it truly is important and the power that music, even death metal, has to heal.
The only people I would caution away from watching the film are people who really hate metal. There is a lot of metal in the film, so if you can’t stand it you will likely not like the film. Admittedly it is not my favorite music genre but I really enjoyed the film. There is some real technical skill involved in metal and it was fun to watch some of the younger kids learning it. Death Metal Angola is an informative and educational documentary that finds an excellent blend of seriousness and humor to keep you entertained for its full ninety minute run time.