Could you please outline the history of Namibia’s hardest rocking band? Arcana XXII was formed in May 1997 with the intent of spreading the Metal Gospel in a country where music styles like Kwaito, Rap, and Traditional reign supreme. Well, the mix of heavy guitars, dramatic vocals and melodic songwriting was well accepted by music fans in Namibia.
After numerous gigs in Namibia, favourable press coverage, and successful stints with South African Bands we recorded "Fallen from Grace", the first ever Metal album recorded by Namibian musicians, at the end of 1999. The album was produced locally by Konrad Schwieger.
We released our second CD titled "Barren Land" in November 2000. It was intended mainly for promotion purposes. After visiting Wacken in 2001 and writing a lot of new material, we entered the studio again on 21 March 2002 (Namibia's independence day) to record the actual album "This Burning Darkness".
Three of the founding members Johan de Jager (guitar), Sven Heussen (guitar) and Johann Smit (vocals) still constitute the core of the band. David West (drums), a drum and percussion tutor by profession, joined as a full band member in November 1999. He has been replaced by Thomas Hoffmann at the beginning of 2001. Sigi Mueller(bass) has joined the band in July 2000.
So the current lineup of Arcana XXII is:
Johan de Jager (guitars)
Johann Smit (vocals)
Thomas Hoffmann (drums)
Sigi Mueller (bass)
Sven Heussen (guitars)
What is the background of the band's name? 22 is a major Arcana. All the cards in a tarot-deck. We actually added the XXII because we found out that there is a Scandinavian with the same name. The name essentially means ,,big mystery”.
The tribal motive you are using in your band logo is also quite mysterious. Has it a deeper meaning, too ? No special meaning. It’s just a cool image.
Namibia is a quite unexpected origin of a Metal band.
Before I got to know Arcana XXII, I only knew one country of the Southern
African continent with some kind of a Metal scene: South Africa.
How come you decided to play metal ? Johan de Jager and I grew up on metal. We got the stuff via import channels and have been huge fans of this music. That’s also the reason we started playing guitar. Johan has also been playing with Voice of Destruction (VOD), a South African band that toured Europe. Anyway, after we all left Namibia for a while in the beginning of the 90s we hooked up again in Windhoek 1996, discovered we still liked metal and formed the band. The biggest problem was getting the right musicians. I already told you, there were a lot of line-up changes, but the line-up is very stable now.
Sure, that’s the most important thing.
The first time I listened to Arcana I expected some sort of very modern music mixed up with tribal elements. You decided to play classic Metal. Why ? Because that’s the stuff we actually like the most. Tribal music sounds really fake if you’re not into it. Anyway, in Namibia there is no music that could be described as tribal music. Traditional music is mostly mixed with Reggae over here. We play metal because we like it more than other styles, which might be more representative of Namibia.
Also your names are not typical Namibian. Where were you born ? We were all born in Namibia, except Joahnn Smit (singer). He’s an South African. The rest of us have German and Dutch origins, but our families have lived in Namibia (or South West Africa) since the end of the 1800s. SWA was a German colony once. So, I guess we are colonial relics :-).
And a very loud relict !!! :-)
So, how is it to play in a metal band in Namibia? There aren’t any other bands
playing hard and loud music.... Right. We’re the only ones doing it seriously at this point. There are a couple of school bands that come and go and a couple of classic rock bands. The metal scene is very small, but we have very loyal fans and good support.
88% of Namibia’s inhabitants are black. I assume they listen more or less
traditional music. Seems to be a hard business for you to gather new fans. Sure, we don’t have that big a mainstream following. But a lot of people know us through TV and newspapers etc. and we are well respected.
Especially in the capital Windhoek and the coastal town of Walvis Bay, we managed to nurture a good fanbase.
Speaking of TV, what kind of music is broadcast by your stations? Metal is played very rarely. Mostly only when we are invited to a radio interview :-). American mainstream rock is, however, very common.
That’s fantastic if the only Metal band is present on radio. What are the effects of your presence in the local media? How many people attend your concert and what kind of people ? About 200 to 300 people, depending on the venue. Our audiences are very mixed. Older and younger people. Since there is no real metal scene, people that like rock music tend to come and check us out. The Arcana-audience consists of people of all ages and from all walks of life. However, most fans are white, but there are also black faces in the audience.
You already recorded three CDs (including the EP "Barren Land"). How would
you describe the development of the band from "Fallen from Grace" to "This
Burning Darkness"? “This Burning Darkness” is our real debut album. The other releases were more or less experiments. We were the first band to record this style of music in Namibia and had big problems with studios and producers. These have been sorted out now and our second “real” record is currently being recorded in Windhoek. It will be finished in two weeks. In terms of style we consistently played a blend of metal and gothic with (hopefully) interesting melodies and time signatures. The next album will be heavier and more dramatic than everything we did before. We are very excited about that one.
Wow! Since the release of ”Darkness” in Germany only a few weeks have passed and you are ready for the next strike. Not bad. You work a high-speed. I heard you recorded "This Burning Darkness" in Namibia within 20 hours? Yes, even less than that. We record live because we believe that’s the most honest way to do it. Mixing normally takes longer than recording with us.
By the way: How many copies of your demo "Demonflower" did you sell and how did you get in contact with European labels ? I don’t know how many copies we sold, the demo was mostly used for promotional purposes. We got good reviews in some magazines and got to know people like Andreas Schöwe from Metal Hammer. We also have built up contacts with labels through regular correspondence.
Apart from the band’s origin, what is from your point of view the unique trademark of Namibia's hardest rockers ? I don’t know. We incorporate al lot of styles- gothic, prog metal, classic metal, thrash. We don’t do that because we wan’t to be different than others, it comes naturally. I also think the voice of Johann is pretty unique.
Yes they are. Espescially his way of singing ”Mordor” (from ”Fallen from Grace”) is cult. So what are the lyrics about ? Mostly mythology and personal experiences of our singer. He writes all lyrics.
Did you or Johann ever think of lyrics in another language than English. I mean
Afrikaans and German are quite common languages in Namibia. Or a native one could be quite exciting, too. On the new album we will be using, German, French and native languages to spice up the songs.
Sounds good. Who was in charge of drawing the album covers. I like them: Simple and gloomy. Not that typical fantasy stuff... Johan de Jager. He is a professional designer.
Taking of covers: You published Johan's cover proposal for an African Iron
Maiden tribute album (Maiden Africa) which was never released. As "Children of
the Damned" is part of your live set, do you plan to release it on your next album ? It is part of our live set, but we don’t want to include covers on our albums. It would be cool to record it for a sampler or whatever.
We will wait for that day :-).
What are your favourite bands and Arcana's influences? How do you get their stuff? I was told it is extremely expensive to purchase CDs in your country. CDs are expensive, but we are masochists when it comes to music. :-) We buy over the internet mostly or get stuff from friends and family overseas. Some bands that we all love include: Paradise Lost, Iron Maiden, Dream Theater, old Metallica, Black Sabbath, Nevermore.
You've already been to Wacken, a deal with Morbid Records in the past, a
deal with tts right now, a homepage with a German domain and ancestors from here. It seems you are closely linked to our country... We have good contacts to Germany. Morbid Records have helped us a lot, the domain is cheaper than in Namibia, Wacken is legendary. You guys got a huge scene and we would love to contribute to that a little bit. We are Namibian but our target market definitely sits in Europe. We play for metal fans, and most of these happen to be in Europe.
And are there any plans to play again a few concerts in Europe ? Hopefully some time soon. Depends on how well our CDs sell and if the label organises something. There is talk of Wacken and/or Summerbreeze next year. It would be fucking great. Its just a matter of money at the end of the day. So, go and buy our CDs :-).
OK, finally a few words about the following bands Metal Orizon (Botswana)
I have had contact with guys, but haven’t heard their music yet. We should get together sometime.
Not too interesting anymore, too formulated.
Gods! Powerslave was my first real metal album and I loved them ever since.
Brilliant up to “..and Justice for All”. Very dissapointing new album. Very good live show, I believe.
Very nice power metal. “ Something wicked this way comes” is my favourite album of theirs.
We are really looking forward presenting our new album to you guys. It should be released at the beginning of 2004 in Europe. We are very confident about that one and hope to visit you some time soon. Thanx and cheerz
Sven, thanks a lot for taking the time to answer the questions. The last words are for you.