"I'd be very delighted to see some of my peers turning up to learn instruments and work with me in a band"
It only takes one band or one musician to lay the very foundations for a metal scene to flourish, in some countries it's touch and go, but for others? The process is long and arduous. Take the African country of Malawi for example, here is a country bordered by Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Tanzania, the first three have one thing in common - they have metal scenes. Tanzania like Malawi has yet to produce one, however it's musicians like Blessings Chisama who are laying the foundations of change. Through teaching aspiring guitarists, he hopes that others may follow in his footsteps whilst hoping to change this negative perception of the metal genre, that is just a form of music and has no Satanic connotations at all. Perhaps may one one day in the future we will see the first Malawian Metal band... for now we have Moto Buu a rock band.
GMA spoke to Blessings about how he got into playing the guitar, the challenges musicians face in Malawi - mostly hardly a solid music industry and what plans he has for the future in music.
How did you first get into metal music? Who are your favourite bands? What do your parents think?
"I started my music journey in a rather not so conventional fashion for most metal guitarists. My uncles have a reggae band, and I used to be around them whenever they were playing their old box guitars at home whilst growing up at my granny’s house. However, as time went by I began to be exposed to rock through the music mix programme on Voice of America, which was aired here at midnight through Capital FM Malawi. At that time, my youngest uncle used to like leaving the radio on throughout the night in the bedroom. At some point they started recording using Fluteloops and Sonar and it was around that time that I also started learning how to record although I only used to play bass with few fingers.
Throughout this time I’ve listened to a lot right across the spectrum, from Christian metal bands (that uncle Evance had on his desktop) such as Seventh Day Slumber, Krystal Meyer, Jeremy Camp, etc. to ‘real stuff’ to get your head banging, bands like Bullet For My Valentine, Trivium, Andy James, Dream Theatre, A Day To Remember, Animals As Leaders, Killswitch Engange, Stephen Taranto, The Helix Nebula, Periphery and lots more, with Andy James probably being one of my main influences on guitar because of his detailed instructional videos on guitar playing. In addition, anything shred, prog and djent has lately become my favourite!
I grew up mostly with my grandma which was the time when my uncles were all into music and when I moved to live with my mother; I had switched to hip-hop as it was easy to get tapes in my secondary school days. However, in 2008 I moved again to re-join one of my uncles (Peter Chisama) and that's where I started learning guitar. It was on the morning of 1st November 2008, two days after I moved to the house, when uncle Peter brought his Ibanez Guitar, a Roland amp and a photocopied book called “The Handbook for Guitar” by Ralph Denyer into my room when he was leaving for work.
He told me to start learning and ask him anything that am not understanding so the process was rather self learning. He also exposed me to the Famous Frank Gambale and gave me his pdf books and audio's which at that time I found very had to digest. As such I was left to explore without negative remarks and up until now I think it was the best thing to ever happen to me. However, I should say that mother doesn't really believe one can make a big fortune in the Malawian music scene and as such has been of the view that I should vigilantly pursue my education in something else other than music."
What is it like being a rock / metal musician in Malawi? What are the challenges you have to face?
"Rock music is not a popular genre to the masses and as such the fan base is extremely low. It's mostly comprised of the expatriate community and very few middle class Malawians who at some point had little exposure to pop rock music and video games, which is how I first heard the song “Hand Of Blood” by Bullet For My Valentine.
For me personally, it has been a journey I sometimes feel like giving up and thanks to the internet otherwise, I don't think Malawi is ready for it considering the religious stereotypes attached to it. I’ve however devised a different approach to buying in audience which at this level are fellow musicians within and I’ve incorporated element of music education and guitar learning in particular where I’m offering lessons and showing them that actually they can apply the same techniques into other styles of music. I'm a music major and that has been the path I’ve taken.
We don't have music stores that offer descent equipment so getting proper gear is problematic. Most so-called music shops are riddled with cheap and very poor quality instruments. I'm actually lucky that the equipment that I have been using was bought by my younger uncle from South Africa. I buy quality accessories like strings, music books, plectrums e.t.c. through the expat community based here for work coming in from their respective holidays.
What equipment are you using right now? What guitar, effects box, etc?
"My uncle has been kind to buy me the Boss GT 100 and an Ibanez GiO. My first owned guitar is an Aria STG series which I was given by someone I used to teach guitar who is now in the U.K. I’ve lately got the Cort X6 which I bought from an expat. And in additional I am exploring and investing in a couple of computer amp sims and impulses."
What is the general perception of rock and metal in Malawi? Are you aware of any rock or metal musicians in Tanzania?
"Metal music in Malawi is mostly considered a demonic music culture for the average masses and something difficult to achieve among Malawian musicians since music education is limited for many of the instrument musicians around. Adding to the problem is the lack of proper gear in most studios around. As such it is often times misunderstood and the knowledge of creation is almost non-existent.
I’m aware of a very strong metal community in Botswana and South Africa but I'm yet to come across metal music from Tanzania."
Will you look to release your own material in due course? Maybe form the first Malawian Metal band?
"Yes! But as a solo artist through platforms like Bandcamp. I’m yet to meet the right people to work with in a band setup so my performances for now are mostly through backing tracks whether be it my own recorded material or covers. So basically my computer is my band at the moment. I'd be very delighted to see some of my peers turning up to learn instruments and work with me in a band"
For metalheads visiting Lilongwe, what sights / attractions and bars / venues could you recommend?
"I’m Blantyre based since birth so I haven’t heard much of Lilongwe in action with metal music except for the Moto Buu which sometimes perform at 4 Seasons. There’s a pop rock / 80's – 90's cover band in Blantyre called Rusty Nails which perform mostly within Blantyre and happens to be a band I’ve worked with in the past."
What plans do you have for the rest of 2020 and leading into 2021?
"Well, I lost my main job due to COVID-19 and I’ve gone to guitar teaching as my last point of standing financially to survive, so I'm back to studying licks and technique to become better."
Do you have any greetings or thanks you wish to send out to friends, family, fans, etc.?
"Shout out to all the metalheads all over the world and to my uncles Evance and Benjamin Chisama for their support and inspiration. I'm also thankful for my late uncle Peter Chisama who gave me his guitar, amp and a book to learn from, he was a music genius that our family will leave to remember."
Usually when you think of The Caribbean you think of white sandy beaches, palm trees rustling in the wind, coconuts laying on the floor, brilliant blue seas and the unmistakable sound of carnivals, steel drums and tropical storms.
But among all of the cliches associated with this area of countless islands is a widespread plethora of metal scenes... metal music naturally. The Dominican Republic is one such country (on the island of Hispaniola; shares border with Haiti) who along with the likes of Puerto Rico, Trinidad & Tobago and Cuba are the leaders of the Caribbean Metal movement.
One of the most notable Dominican Republican bands Archaios gained some fame for being the first Dominican Republic Metal band to be signed to an American label... but our attention is not with them, it's with the instrumentalists Metalurgia of whom released two albums this year: "Dimensiones: Espacio" and "Dimensiones: Tiempo". We interrogated their bassist Guillermo Armenteros about his native scene, the album releases and what their band history is among other things.
For those who do not know of Metalurgia, could you please give us a brief history of the band?
"The band started in mid 2012 as bassist Guillermo Armenteros's solo project. He is the driving force and main composer. He played in a number of punk and hardcore bands and decided to create an outlet for more complex music. At the initial stages of the band vocals were considered, but the idea was abandoned in favour of writing material that would not have the worries and constraints of fitting in vocal melodies and arrangements. The band released "Aleaciones" in 2013, recorded, mixed and mastered by Joel Duarte at JDS Studios. Alejandro Chahin (Macabra, Medulah) and Francis Cronox participated in this release handling drum and guitar duties. There are plans to record and revisit this album again in the future as it is currently not available.
Fast forward a couple of years, and Guillermo has more ideas and a better grasp of music and arranging in general. Elementos writing and creation process begins in April 2016. This time around Carlos Yael Santos Pantaleon (Macabra, Odioso) is at the helm behind the desk recording, mixing and handling guitar duties. Daniel Acosta (Nameless Absolution, Progenitus) has guest solos on a couple of tracks and would later join the band on a permanent basis. Mario Luis Ventura (Antihippie, Cosmic Hell) joins the band as its permanent drummer. The mastering process is outsourced to Brett Caldas Lima at Towerstudios. The band releases "Elementos" in early 2017 and take the stage the previous December at Destruccion Masiva, one of the biggest metal festivals in the Caribbean and the largest in the Dominican Republic.
The band then heads into the studio in April 2017 and begins writing and recording "Dimensiones: Tiempo y Espacio". Recording and mixing duties, as well as additional production and guitars are done by Ariel Sanchez (Nux, Epsilon). Miguel Sosa (Macabra, Medulah) joins the band after being a live guitarist during some time. The album is mastered by Brett Caldas Lima. "Dimensiones" is released the following year, to much critical acclaim.
You released your double album "Dimensiones: Tiempo y Espacio" this year, what was reception like? Will you do a Caribbean tour in support of the album?
"The reception has been positive, with many people praising its flawless execution and atmospherics. It is a huge undertaking in this day and age to release a double album, and the cohesiveness of the material is something that a lot of listeners have given us credit for. Another element that was unexpected and appreciated was the additional instrumentation (theremin, acoustic guitars, banjo, minor percussion, synths and pianos) not common in mainstream metal.
We have no concrete plans to tour at the moment, but some local shows and an album release show are planned in the near future. The cost of travelling and booking shows from the Dominican Republic to the United States, Europe or other major markets are very high. We highly value the opportunity to share our music online on all major platforms because getting out on the road is something out of our reach or cost effective at the moment."
You included some non-traditional metal instruments like the theremin and banjo, what was the inspiration behind the decision?
"The inspiration behind this was the need for experimentation and trying to set ourselves apart from the pack in metal and electric guitar driven music. Each additional instrument was over analysed and given much consideration as to where it would fit. We feel that the additional layers add to the listeners experience."
As a metal band from the Dominican Republic, what challenges are there? You share a border with Haiti, do you know of any rock / metal bands out there? What is your scene like?
"The main challenge we face is that there are no dedicated studios for the type of music we make. Some previous members who have been a part of the band no longer operate in the country and have moved abroad trying to make a name for themselves. That’s why we record and mix the material ourselves with whatever means we can come up with. There are bigger more expensive studios available that handle pop and Latin music, but we feel they don’t offer us what we are looking for in terms of expertise in our genre and we feel more comfortable handling the production ourselves, as we live and breathe this music.
I know there are some bands in Haiti, but other than that we don’t know much else about them. If its tough to make music in the Dominican Republic, I imagine our neighbouring country of Haiti, which is more impoverished, must be next to impossible.
Our local metal scene is very small compared to major markets like the USA or even some Latin American countries like Mexico or Argentina. We also don’t have dedicated venues for our genre. The members of our scene know each other as we are a tight knit group of people and its been the same group for the last 10 to 15 years, with few people and generations coming along. Local shows have an average of 100-150 attendance. If a band wants to make it, they have to move abroad. Most shows are put on by our friends and we have a collective called Santuario Producciones which organizes Destruccion Masiva, the show to play if you’re a metal band in the country. Destruccion Masiva has been held every year for about 15 years and has grown to about 1500 in attendance."
La Puerta Del Conde, Santo Domingo / Source: Diario Libre
The Caribbean has produced many metal bands from Trinidad & Tobago to Cuba, from Aruba to The Bahamas. Could you see every inhabited island in time having a metal scene and a possible Caribbean Metal festival?
"The thing about metal is that it is so divisive that either you hate or love it. There is no in between. The people that like the genre generally are in it for life and feel very strongly towards it. With internet access and global connectivity ever so more present in our daily lives the reaches of metal surely are present in every country with internet access. This is why we feel that eventually, if not already so, every country will have a flourishing metal scene, with bands putting on live shows and having original material and releases. As we mentioned before, Destruccion Masiva by Santuario Producciones, books international bands as headliners, besides the local favourites."
For metalheads visiting Santo Domingo, what are some of the places, sights and attractions they should go and see?
"Sadly, there aren’t any metal hang outs I’d recommend as must see. We’d just go to wherever a show is taking place at the time. It may be anywhere from a dive bar at la colonial zone to some mini-market or bodega. If its December, then Destruccion Masiva is the place to be. Each year its held at a different venue, but its an outdoor festival."
What plans do you have for the rest of the year?
"For the remainder of the year, we will be writing and recording an experimental EP titled, "Paradigmas" (Spanish for Paradigms). The name is a reference to a shift in what it means to be a progressive metal outfit. Our goal with this release, which is slated to be out by the end of the year, is to incorporate symphonic elements to our music. We are writing string and horn sections and one day would like to perform with an orchestra live. We feel that the music we are focusing on now could greatly benefit with these additional layers."
"He’s (Kylo Ren) shown so far that his only way to cope with that (his inner conflict) is to let his rage run rampant"
What are your thoughts on 'The Last Jedi' and will you be watching the new anthology film 'Solo'?
"We were all big fans of The Last Jedi and will absolutely be going to see Solo. I doubt you’ll find any of us not going to see any piece of the Star Wars saga."
Your first opus set the galaxy alight and got the thumbs up from Darth Sidious, what will you be bringing to the new album due out on May 4th?
"Our new album was our opportunity to explore the pieces that we wanted to explore. The first album needed to have all the big ones, but we are now able to delve into some of the deeper cuts from the past films and explore some of the newer material. It’s definitely much heavier and more technical."
It's rare for themed-bands to make an impact internationally, so who came up with the idea of having a Star Wars instrumental metal band?
"Our drummer, Grant McFarland (aka Bobs Sett) was the one who hatched the idea initially. He had made a drum video for The Imperial March a few years prior and eventually had the idea to add other instruments to the arrangement, which is when he got the rest of us involved. His perfect pitch and excellent ears are due the most credit, as he was the one to pick apart every piece of the orchestra and map it all out for us to play. I don’t think we’d have made the same impact without his efforts. "
Do you feel Kylo Ren will redeem himself in Episode 9? Or could Kylo and Rey form the Grey Jedi?
"I don’t think there is any coming back for Kylo. He fulfilled the same prophecy as every other Sith or Dark Side oriented individual before him, which was to eventually outsmart and kill his master. I think his inner conflict will still play a factor, but he’s shown so far that his only way to cope with that is to let his rage run rampant. I suppose, however, we could always be thrown a total curve ball. I guess we’ll have to wait and see."
Surely it must get hot under your outfits, are the suits breathable? Does it take long to put them on?
"The live costumes are not nearly as bad as they look. They are designed to be as movable and breathable as possible. The original costumes used in our music videos are the real burden. Incredibly hot, heavy and always falling apart. Unfortunately for us, those are what we also spend the longest continuous periods of time in, since videos take up to eight hours to shoot. The live show is just an hour, then we’re back out of them. "
Ultimately would Dark Vader love to play a lightsabre-shaped guitar?
"I currently play a guitar with a red fretboard, courtesy of Kiesel Guitars, that we have aptly named “The Lightsaber”. I’m not sure I’d ever want the full shape just because of how skinny that would be. I’m a bigger guy, so tiny guitars look a bit silly on me."
Initially was it difficult converting the orchestral pieces into metal music? How did you go about it?
"As I said, that was all Grant. The cool thing is these songs already lend themselves very well to the metal adaptations. I think classical compositions in general are very easily adaptable in that way."
What plans do you have for the rest of the year and into the light years ahead?
"Our next tour is set for June. We will be heading back to Europe to play a number of great festivals, with some equally great names. There are some other things in the works for the remainder of 2018, but none I can talk about just yet! "