A big festival is an excellent reason to plan a trip – but if you’re looking for an off-the-beaten path experience, you’re going to need a guide. Here, writer Jamie Fullerton explains why Bostwana’s heavy metal festival is worth traveling for and how to make it happen.
Botswana’s heavy metal scene is one of Africa’s most exciting and welcoming music subcultures and it’s finding a new home in October 2022 for the return of Vulture Thrust Metal Fest.
Offering high-octane rock with a vibrantly inclusive attitude, the event will take place in the village of Rakops in central Botswana. It promises a unique way to explore the African country, whether you love metal or not.
As well as a place to rock out in famously friendly Botswana, the small festival is a base for visitors exploring the surrounding game reserves and going on heavy metal safaris of sorts.
Here’s everything you need to know about the bash.
What is Vulture Thrust Metal Fest?
Vulture Thrust Metal Fest marks the return of heavy rock festivals to Botswana after two years of COVID-19 shutdowns.
Rakops will briefly become the center of Botswana’s metal subculture, with bands and fans setting up camp in the village on October 28-29. With the event taking place near the tourist town Maun, organizers hope to attract more foreigners than previous local rock festivals have. 500-600 fans in total are expected.
2022 marks the third incarnation of Vulture Thrust but will be its first happening ‘IRL.’ It was set to launch in Rakops in 2020 but went online (and again in 2021) due to pandemic restrictions.
Vulture Thrust is organized by the team behind Ghanzi’s Winter Metal Mania Fest, including Tshomarelo’ Vulture’ Mosaka. He’s a founding member of the band Overthrust, who will play at the Rakops bash.
The top things to do in Botswana, from elephant encounters to drifting on the Okavango Delta
Hot leather: Botswana’s metal scene
Vulture cites Nosey Road, who gained traction through the 1970s, as Botswana’s pioneering heavy metal band.
Interest in heavy rock grew in the country, according to Vulture, helped by foreigners bringing in records, especially in Maun, where several expats were based. Momentum built in the 1990s when Nosey Road established a music festival, and other Botswana bands, such as Metal Orizon, emerged.
Enamored with this music, in 2008, Vulture, who grew up in Rakops, formed Overthrust to play “old school metal.” Soon after, Vulture organized the first Winter Metal Mania Fest in Ghanzi. Fifty people showed up.
“We were playing extreme music, and people didn’t understand it,” said Vulture. “Some people criticized us, thinking we were playing ‘devil music.’ But we didn’t give up.”
Overthrust has written songs about dark subjects relevant to Botswana, such as corrupt clerics and belief in ghosts. Over the years, more fans hurdled the simplistic notion that addressing dark subjects made you immoral, realizing that this was not, in fact, ‘ devil music.’ “We’re trying to bring these subjects to life through entertainment,” Vulture said.
By the mid-2010s, a small, vibrant Botswana metal subculture had galvanized, with local festivals as their center points. Metal’s global uniform — black clothes, tattoos, band t-shirt — provided an image template, but local twists were added. Cowboy hats became popular among the bands: tips to Botswana’s cattle farming culture rather than US influence.
Vulture: “We made a subculture not only through music but through identity. If you see someone in Botswana wearing a metal t-shirt, you immediately connect. There’s no difference between a band member and a friend.”
The scene’s coverage in the foreign-style press led to some fearing that outsiders view it as overly enamored with US culture. This is despite Botswana’s metal bands often writing music with rhythms very different from traditional US-style metal acts and using African instruments.
Still, Vulture welcomes global attention. Like other Botswana metalheads, he works a day job to fund his music and sees all coverage of the bands and festivals as a vital boost in an environment fuelled by passion.
“By attending these shows, they [Botswana metal bands] can interact with musicians from other countries,” he said. “They get interviews and exposure. These shows make them want to keep going.”
See the best of Botswana on these standout road trips
Who’s on the festival line-up?
Heavy metal logically dominates the bill of the festival’s main stage, with bands playing on it from 8pm on the Friday and 2pm on the Saturday, rocking through to 4am on both nights.
Overthrust will play, plus fellow Botswana bands, including Stane, Remuda, Humanitarian, PMMA, Alive N Bolder and Bankrupt Souls, the latter featuring members of Metal Orizon. PMMA, said Vulture, is “brutal – they play like Judas Priest.”
He also highlighted Alive N Bolder, saying: “They are older gentlemen, but they get crazy on stage. It’s a good feeling to see an older person playing rock ‘n’ roll the way they do.”
The festival can’t afford huge international acts, but some bands from beyond Africa have been keen to get involved. Swiss black metal band Gravpel is scheduled to play, with acts from Germany also expected.
Before the main stage bands gear up, DJs and other musicians will play on the site from the Wednesday. They will showcase other genres, including jazz, house and Kwaito music, which originated in South Africa.
How do I get Vulture Thrust tickets?
Tickets to the festival cost 100 pula ($8) or 120 pula ($9), including camping. A VIP ticket, which includes a t-shirt, costs 350 pula ($27). You can request to book advance tickets through the Vulture Thrust Facebook page. Slightly higher-priced tickets will be available at the gate.
Exploring Botswana on a budget is possible – here’s how to do it
When should I get to the festival?
Main stage bands begin at 8pm on Friday October 28, leaving plenty of time to travel to Rakops that day. The main stage action starts again at 2pm on the Saturday, closing at 4am Sunday. From Wednesday, as well as music on smaller stages, there’ll be activities and food stalls on the site.
A good cause, a fun march
Heavy metal festivals in Botswana have a history of raising money for good causes. Vulture decided to launch his first festival after seeing homeless children in Ghanzi. “I saw destitute children roaming the street,” he said. “I was told that some didn’t have or go to school. I said we should do something about it.”
The resulting Winter Metal Mania Fest raised money for children’s aid organizations. 2022’s Vulture Thrust Metal Fest will raise funds for people living with disabilities.
At 10am on the Saturday of the festival, bands and fans will march from Rakops Primary Hospital. This procession of honking cars, enormous motorbikes, plus metalheads on horse and foot will finish with a money donation ceremony.
Join the heavy metal safari
You won’t spot rock beasts like Mastadon or Scorpions at Vulture Thrust, but you might see an elephant nearby.
Festival-goers can join animal-spotting trips in vehicles on the Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday of the festival week, visiting Central Kalahari Game Reserve and Orapa Game Park. You’ll potentially see elephants, lions, cheetahs and crocodiles.
Festival organizers will book these trips for fans and band members. Message the event’s Facebook page for information.
Food and drink, including vegetarian meals, will be available at the festival site. Meals should cost around 40-60 pula ($3-5).
Organizers are bringing a proper coffee machine from Maun to the festival because, said Vulture, “tourists like coffee too much.” Among the alcohol sellers will be Okavango Craft Brewery, which runs a microbrewery in Maun.
For the ultra-hungry, a competitive eating competition will take place on the festival site involving fans gobbling local food and fizzy pop. Perhaps not the best precursor for mosh-pit flailing.
6 of the best places to visit in Botswana
What to bring
Consider leaving bulky luggage and valuables in secure Maun hotel storage, especially if you’re camping at the festival, so you can take what you need for the event. Rakops is a small village so pack luxuries, harder-to-buy amenities, and cash before you go.
While the temptation to wear leather will be great, temperatures can reach 93 degrees Fahrenheit in Rakops in October. Bring a hat, sun slap and bug spray.
The music will be ear-splittingly loud, so bring ear protection to avoid damage. ACS professional earplugs are worth the expense, but any earplug protection is better than none.
Where should I stay?
You can bring a tent and camp at Rakops’ Matsaodi campsite, by the festival site. Event tickets, including camping, cost 120 pula ($9) in advance and can be booked via the Vulture Thrust Facebook page. Alternatively, you can buy tickets, including campsite access on-site.
Festival camping runs from the Wednesday, October 26 to Sunday, October 30, but if you stay just the Friday and Saturday nights, you’ll catch the core event.
There are a few small hotels within a couple of kilometers of the event, such as Xere Lodge and Rakops River Lodge. The festival team has booked some hotel rooms for fans, which can be reserved through the festival’s Facebook page. Rooms cost around 600 pula ($47) per night.
How to get around in Botswana, from 4WD safaris to canoe tours
How to get to Vulture Thrust Metal Fest
The event takes place by Matsaodi campsite in Rakops. The village is a 210-kilometer, two-hour drive southeast of Maun: the north Botswana town popular with tourists due to its safari and airport access.
You can hire a car in Maun and drive yourself, or get a bus from Maun Bus Station. Ask drivers if their bus stops at Rakops — tickets shouldn’t cost much more than 70 pula ($5).
Alternatively, take the unofficial Metalhead Express. “We’re expecting a huge number of metalheads traveling with their own vehicles from Maun to Rakops,” said Vulture. “They wear leather pants; you’ll be able to identify them. They’re very friendly; you can say, ‘Can I have a ride?'”
How to rock out if you can’t make this festival
If you can’t get to Vulture Thrust in October 2022, don’t fret. Sister event Winter Metal Mania Fest is expected to return in May 2023 in Ghanzi, and expect Vulture Thrust to return in late 2023.