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Review: War-Torn Angola Claims its Right to Rock in ‘Death Metal Angola’ (New on iTunes)

Review: War-Torn Angola Claims its Right to Rock in 'Death Metal Angola' (New on iTunes)

For any given subculture, there are assumptions about who
the true arbiters and fans of that group should be. There are rules about who
can play – the same rules that made teenage metal band Unlocking
The Truth
such an oddity and a sensation, because many simply don’t see young
black boys from Brooklyn as the face of heavy metal music.

Feature documentary “Death Metal Angola”
turns this idea on its head as it spotlights a group of rockers and metal
enthusiasts a world away from the music’s roots in Europe and the United
States. Amid a nation ravaged by generations of war and internal conflict, the
subgenre of death metal is used as an emotional outlet and in fact, a healing
tool, for the people of Angola.

The film follows Sonia Ferreira and Wilker Flores, a couple who
work together to produce Angola’s first-ever national rock concert in capital
Luanda, as Sonia says, “to clear out the debris from all these years of
war.” Juxtaposed with plans to put together the event – a logistical and
financial feat in itself – is the story of Okutiuka, an orphanage that Sonia
runs in Huambo. The film explains that the war has cost some 500,000 lives in
Angola, which has devastated families and specifically, left 55 children under her
care.

In interviews with Sonia and the wards of Okutiuka we hear
of homelessness, poverty and extreme violence suffered by children as young as
toddlers. But what could easily be a gloomy story turns to one of hope and redemption.
While Sonia stands in as a parental figure for the children, Wilker, an avid
musician and rock fan, teaches them the art of death metal. Though the gutteral
growls, heavy bass lines and morbid lyrics seem foreign at first, they quickly
become contextualized in light of the daily atrocities that Angolans face. Citizens,
young and old, take to the music as an emotional release and in this way, death
metal seems even more appropriate than it would in the west, as they know and
have seen firsthand the “death” that they sing about.

Visually, the film finds a way to be artful with the most
basic of backdrops, creating somewhat of a mosaic from the peeling paint and
raw fronts of buildings. Performance scenes with local bands like Before Crush
provide the film’s gritty soundtrack and add to the overall tone.

The film is touching at times, but overall exposes audiences
to a little-known phenomenon – how one community has found an entertaining way
to cope with, and overcome, their trauma. “Death Metal Angola” is a
worthwhile watch, screening now at New
York’s Cinema Village
and also available
on iTunes

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