Interview: African heavy metal rockers Skinflint on their first American tour

The members of African heavy metal band Skinflint are eagerly looking forward to playing their first American dates. Starting Tuesday, Feb. 19, the trio will open for fellow heavy metal rockers Soulfly for seven shows, mostly on the West Coast.

Last week, they arrived in New York from their hometown (Gaborone, Botswana) for interviews with media and to prepare for the tour. Alessandra Sbrana (drums), Giuseppe Sbrana (guitar and vocals), and Kebonye Nkoloso (bass) sat down with at a coffee shop in Gramercy during their stay in the city.

“This is our first time in the U.S.,” Alessandra said. “But we’ve played in Sweden, and we did a European tour with [Finnish symphonic metal singer] Tarja two years ago. We went to Germany, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Holland, and we’ve played in Kenya and South Africa, as well.”

The band blends traditional themes, tales, and rhythms from Africa with the hard-driving rock typical of Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden — two of their many musical influences. 

Nkoloso likes hip-hop, jazz, blues, and traditional African music, in addition to heavy metal. Alessandra currently listens to progressive rock in her free time.

Giuseppe started out as a blues guitarist with a passion for rock.

“Also, growing up I was exposed to many types of music in Africa, such as our traditional music which is called Borankana, and Kwassa Kwassa. We have traditional rhythms and tribal drums, so some of those influences ended up being in the music of Skinflint,” he said.

Some songs from Skinflint’s fifth full-length album, Skinflint, which was released in June 2018, are based on local lore and culture.

“‘The Prophesy of Nonggawuse’ is actually a Zulu tale about a girl who saw visions into the future, sort of like hallucinations. She was warning the tribe that a big plague would come. Oral tradition is a big part of African culture, so we wanted to bring these tales to the forefront because they’ve never been documented by mainstream media. We have other songs, like ‘Tokoloshe,’ which is [about] a small, popular demon,” Giuseppe explained.

The band’s complete discography is available here

Skinflint, which was founded in 2006, is part of a burgeoning heavy metal scene in Africa — especially Botswana. According to the trio, the genre has a mix of male and female fans which spans a wide age range from “very young” through those in their 60's.

Last year, British magazine Metal Hammer named the band one of “5 of the Best Metal Bands from Botswana."

“The fans are very passionate, and a lot of people around Africa want to come and play in Botswana, because of the fans,” Alessandra noted. “They dress up in leather and studs — they almost look like ‘metal cowboys.’ [The heavy metal scene] is very alive.”

The Sbrana cousins and Nkoloso are hoping to make an impression on American heavy metal audiences.

“We want to open [shows] with ‘Ram Of Fire’ [from their 2017 album Chief of the Ghosts],” Alessandra said. “It kind of shocks you when it starts, so we just want to shock the audience a bit and wake them up. And it also encompasses our style quite well. It's [from] an older album, so we're hoping some will be familiar with the song.”

Nkoloso pointed out that the setlist for this tour is subject to change. “We’re just going to go with the flow. We will feel the audience and we’ll change things up,” he said. “I think it makes things more interesting to be spontaneous and not to over-plan. Some requests come from American fans who want us to play ‘Eyes in a Leopards Spots,’ [from the latest album] so we took notes [of] where they’re from and we’ll definitely play some [requests] for those guys.”

Skinflint with Soulfly Tour Dates

Feb. 19 - Colorado Springs, CO - Sunshine Studios Live
Feb. 20 - Grand Junction, CO - Mesa Theater
Feb. 22 - Spokane, WA - The Pin
Feb. 23 - Seattle, WA - Club Sur
Feb. 24 - Portland, OR - The Bossanova Room
Feb. 25 - Petaluma, CA - The Phoenix Theater
Feb. 26 - Los Angeles, CA - 1720