Give Me Freedom and Give Me Death Metal
'Death Metal Angola' director Jeremy Xido on capturing a country's first-ever metal festival
Staging a rock festival is hard. Staging the first-ever rock festival in a country still digging up land mines after 27 years of civil war? That's insane. But that's the true story of Death Metal Angola.
The southern African republic has become an unlikely bastion for extreme rock. In the big coastal cities, poised between the toxic dangers of the bloody times and a 21st century of reconstruction and prosperity, all the way to the bombed-out heartland of Huambo, its merciless riffs and chaos-obsessed lyrics are a way for the young to process their reality. Documentarian Jeremy Xido said, "The particular group of people who are playing this music are some the most erudite, well-educated, and curious people I have met in a very long time."
People like orphanage worker Sonia Ferreira and her boyfriend Wilker Flores, who seem like the world's most unlikely metalheads: she, exhausted but tender to the never-ending stream of strays dumped at her door. He, quiet and dressed for office work. But when he pummels the African air with thrash and she fights to get a metal festival going in a recovering war zone, it's clear that they are pure metal.
Xido met the couple completely by accident. He was working on a documentary about Chinese laborers rebuilding the Benguela railway line, cutting across Angola's core. "The trains just happened to stop in this town," he said. "I wanted a cup of coffee really badly, and there's only one cafe in town that serves a decent cup." When he got there, he saw "a young man in a blue button-down Oxford shirt and dreadlocks. He waved me over, and we started talking. He asked me what I do. 'Oh, I'm making a movie about Chinese construction workers. What do you do?' He said he's a musician. I asked him what kind of music and he says, 'Oh, death metal.' It kind of blew my mind."
That was Flores, and he invited Xido to the orphanage to hear him play. Of course, the documentarian thought he meant a club called the Orphanage, and he invited the Chinese workers to the gig. When they arrived, they found it was a real orphanage, housing 55 kids. But Flores was ready to shred. "He was siphoning electricity from his neighbors, and he proceeded to play this open-air concert that was extraordinary," Xido said. "It was harrowing, beautiful, terrifying, and there's all these shadows of children running around everywhere."
A year later, Xido was headed back to Huambo and called Flores and Ferreira, just to hang out. "They said, 'It's great you're coming, because we're holding the country's first-ever national rock concert metal festival, and you're going to record it.' I went, 'All right.'" With the help of "some old New Jersey metalheads who have a production company and a little bit of money," he started filming. "I originally thought it would be a short portrait of some musicians and the festival, and it soon became something much more profound."
While Flores opened his eyes to the Angolan metal scene, Xido's lens settles most on Ferreira. "When we first started filming," he said, "we were essentially shooting two different films – the orphanage and the musicians – and trying to find the bridge between them." That bridge was Ferreira, whom Xido called "one of the most extraordinary human beings I have ever met." As both den mother to an orphan clan and amateur promoter, she became "the associative link for a world that had been orphaned and fractured and was trying to build itself up, to put a new history on the wall."
Death Metal Angola screens Friday, Oct. 25, 5pm, in the Zombie Room at Emo's.