The Real Heart
of African Rock:
*bizarrojerri’s exclusive interview with one of Botswana’s best up-and-coming alternative rock bands
“…according to leaked South African government documents, in May 1989, an alien craft was shot down by South African aircraft, somewhere over the Kalahari desert, deep inside Botswana. Legend has it, that two alien beings were captured on site, and sent for “evaluation” to a notorious SA Defence Force military science research facility called …KAMP 13”
– The Secret South Africa Blog
I like Botswana. I like their flag, a powder blue landscape split by a black and white band. Simple and evocative. I like Botswana’s president, Ian Khama, and his moderate egalitarian philosophy and strong emphasis on environmental issues. I like the fact that Botswana choose not to bulldoze the Okavango Delta into a shopping mall and low-income housing. Above all, though, I think the one thing I like about Botswana is, like that dark bend sinister that runs across their flag, the country has a huge, passionate underground scene dedicated to hard rock and metal music.
Hundreds of leather clad fans gather at weekends, on the internet, at small community hall gigs where bands, inspired by some of the heaviest music known to man, produce some of the most novel and pioneering rock music in all shapes and genres. I like Botswana, and one day, I might like to go there and see for myself what this strange juxtaposition of rock music and African culture really looks like up close.
Until then, I will continue to find beautiful unpolished gems on ReverbNation and Soundcloud websites. That’s how I found Kamp 13. Though not as heavy as some of their contemporaries, with a more melodic-rock with strong lyrical characteristics, Kamp 13 do descend from some of Botswana’s legendary metal aristocracy, as Kamp 13 vocalist Jimmy explains in this exclusive interview with the Fanboys & Soulmen blog:
“(Guitarist) Stux was in Wrust, probably Botswana’s most famous metal band thanks to their shows with Sepultura during the Brazilian legends’ tour of South Africa in 2003. While bass player Lee was in another great metal band, Crackdust, I had been playing in more alternative rock bands for a number of years, including Stealth, where I met Skit.”
Drummer Skit brings a unique, more traditional element to Kamp 13, incorporating traditional Setswana percussion into the band’s music, creating a booming backbone that solidifies, without doubt, Kamp 13’s African roots. “With a rhythmic traditional Setswana dance background, his drum performances gives our live shows a great energetic twist,” Jimmy tells.
The four Kamp 13’ers are bonded by their love of progressive melodic rock by bands like A Perfect Circle, Animals As Leaders and Karnivool, and a serious curiosity with alternative history – (“what others may call conspiracy theories, we know the truth,” Jimmy jokes) – which inform their lyrics. “I like lyrics that pose serious questions for the listener, and make them go out and look for the answers,” he explains. Although not overtly political, Kamp 13 use their musical platform to pose questions that should be asked by people who have the power and influence to ask them, but don’t always take that responsibility.
Explaining Botswana’s fascination and love of rock music, in particular the death metal, progressive elements of the genre, Jimmy is philosophical, but straight forward: “Botswana rock fans like their music BRUTAL and HEAVY. It’s a wonderful mystery of how it all happened.” The organic elements of rock music, that seemingly primeval power combination of hypnotic riffs and rolling rhythms, not totally dissimilar to that of traditional African music may also have something to do with the attraction.
On the ground of the Botswana rock scene, Jimmy says, there is a lot of spirit and camaraderie. “Even though rock and metal lives in the shadow of pop music, like hip-hop, house and R ‘n B music, there are always new bands coming out, there are a lot of them now. Fans inspired by the bands of the past, just completely in love with playing music.” That passion is shared between bands, both new and established: “the pie is so small, it seems logical for everyone to share it. We invite bands we like to join our gigs, people share equipment and we always go out of our way to promote and support any band that has something to say.”
Jimmy tells of Metal Orizon, the godfathers of Botswana metal, as being the greatest inspiration for Kamp 13. Formed in 1990, this veritable Black Sabbath of Botswana has had a sporadic, but cultic musical journey, inspiring an entire generation of rockers in Gaborone. “Their lead singer Spencer Sekwabebe, who sadly passed away in 2003, was someone who instigated this strong sense of brotherhood in the metal scene. I remember the first time I came to Gaborone, hoping to make a name for myself in music; the first guy to help me find my voice and cultivate my passion for music was Spencer. He even let me use his equipment (he always had really great equipment). And he did that for everyone,” Jimmy emotes.
Despite this strong culture of musical brotherhood in Botswana, Jimmy says the scene, particularly as far as live shows go, is still a bit of a struggle. There is only so much of the pie to go around. “The live scene is always an up and down, stop/start environment. There are times when events, small festivals, platforms to play, are a-plenty, but then there can months of nothing.” Most bands’ options include making a name for themselves with South African audiences, through the internet, and hoping that, with a bit of sponsorship and some good luck, bands can get to South Africa to tour. Kamp 13 themselves are currently working on a tour to SA in the coming year, performing with fellow Botswanian alt rock band South Of Nine (originally from Gaborone, now based in Johannesburg). “Touring is still the best promotional tool for any band”.
And so to the future of Kamp 13. “We’ll keep writing songs, developing a strong collection of good songs. Touring whenever possible, just working hard at something we all love doing” Jimmy says. The band are also keen in finding some interesting collaborative projects, across a number of genres, be they electronic, hip-hop or classical experiments, “I’d love to adapt the Kamp 13 melodic elements for a chamber orchestra, I think the two would work well together.” He believes, despite the presumptuous obituaries always been written about rock and metal, that rock is not entirely dead, and that as long as there are still good songs been written, the genre has a lot of life left in it. “Rock music has this amazing ability to adapt and evolve on its own terms. Look at Karnivool, or Tool, always creating challenging inroads within the rock genre, keeping it fresh, but at the same time, remaining true to their spirit.”
On whether the band would consider a permanent move to South Africa to cultivate that game-changing creativity, Jimmy remains enigmatic and elusive, understandably so. “As fans with a lot of respect for a band like Metallica, whose longevity and evolution is admirable, we’re inspired and determined to be that kind of a timeless hard working band. So maybe a move to South Africa might be in our future, somewhere down the line. Whatever the future holds, we plan to be around, rocking out and enjoying every minute of it, for a long time still,” Jimmy concludes with a smile.
For more info, check out the Kamp 13 Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/Kampthirteen