As a grade-schooler, Banchs, who grew up in Altoona and now lives in Oakmont, fell in love with metal. In his 20s, he became captivated with African history and culture. Then, about five years ago, as a graduate student in post-colonial African politics at the University of London, he found himself in a discussion about the ways that African heavy metal has been overlooked. Inspired by that conversation, he started writing.
“I thought it was going to be a series of articles,” Banchs recalls. “But it turned out to be so much more.”
To research the book, Banchs visited South Africa, Botswana, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Reunion Island and Zimbabwe (the project was self-financed; Banchs worked odd jobs to raise travel money). Each chapter is devoted to a different locale, where Banchs spends time with musicians, digging into cultural histories and current scenes. Part travelogue, part academic exploration, part oral history, Banchs approaches the subject without exoticization, and Heavy Metal Africa is hard to put down.
And while you’ll likely come away with a clearer picture of a misunderstood region, the book ultimately showcases heavy metal’s universality.
“One road trip I had with a guy in South Africa, we were listening to an album from Skid Row: It was the second album I ever paid for with my own money,” Banchs says, recalling the feeling of bonding with a new friend over a well-loved record. “You just have this connection with this person who grew up entirely on the other side of the planet. … It reminded me of why I love this music.”