Togo is a country you probably haven’t thought about in a while. Maybe not even in the last 14 years, since the world cup participation of the African coastal nation. That’s likely going to change because Arka’n Asrafokor is turning heads with their specific blend of metal music.
With their debut album, Zã Keli , the band didn’t just set their own country on the heavy metal map. They made an impact on the whole continent. Telling us more about it is rapper and keyboard player Enrico Ahavi, with some additions from bandleader and guitarist Rock.
Due to a lot of circumstances, it took a while to get this interview done. That has a lot to do with the band being quite busy. But here it is: Togo heavy metal warriors!
Breaking the mold with Togo heavy metal
How is Arka’n doing? Has the pandemic been tough for you guys?
The pandemic has frozen many things. Many activities in many domains. And just the same way a doctor lives on his work, an artist lives on his art. An art they cannot fully express yet. It’s not only about having income but the public also. Being on stage and feel the crowd, these people’s energy and joy to be there. So yes it’s tough but we are holding on and we’ll get through this. We’re still working and we are working on new projects. The band is doing well.
Did you change the name to Arka’n Asrafokor in the meantime? I understand it means warrior, but can you tell more about this?
No, the addition of Asrafokor came prior to the pandemic. Asrafo means warrior in our mother tongue. And Asrofokor refers to the music of warriors. Warriors were icons in our culture. They were always ready to fight and die for the community. Ready to die for honor, justice, truth, peace, and love. And this state of mind and soul should always be alive and kept deep within each of us. That’s the spirit of Arka’n. That’s the kind of people we are. That’s the warriors we are, walking in our ancestors’ steps.
So can you tell me how you guys all got into this music, what bands inspired you and how you all met?
The musicians were all friends and playing here and there in clubs. Rock, the leader, was working on an album project meanwhile. He suggested to build up a band with the others. He explained the concept, the spirit behind it. They all agreed because sharing the same point of view, spirit, and culture. I (the rapper) was not hundred percent in the band. I used to sing a couple of songs with them on stage but later on joined the band as a full-time member.
We’ve been inspired by many bands. We can’t mention them all but we think the most relevant ones are Slipknot, Korn, Killswitch Engaged, Linkin Park, and more.
The African continent is known for having a very sparse metal scene and only a few notable exceptions. How was this in Togo when you were coming up and exploring this music? Did you have any musical peers?
Truth is it was really tough because there is not a single metal scene in Togo. There was no stage for us. And people don’t know what that music is. But we tried strategically to perform here and there in Togo. Not everywhere and anyhow. The places were selected according to our objectives. Little by little, we’ve started getting people to know what metal was. And specifically what our style was. And surprise surprise: they’ve loved it. Though some people had never heard of metal before. They’ve loved it because of the traditional aspect of the music. They could understand it. The music was the mirror reflecting their roots.
People know rock music here. There are good rock bands. But we are the sole metal band in Togo for now. Therefore we don’t think we’ll say we had musical peers.
What is often seen in emerging metal scenes is emulating the sound of the bands that inspire. But you guys came up with this whole new, distinct sound. What made you go in this direction and how did you shape your sound?
Instinct brought that distinct sound. It couldn’t be otherwise. Metal patterns and our traditional ones are twins. We took that direction because there was no other one to take. The path was there for us to take because it was who we are. Our culture. The culture we live in and that shaped us. We just did what we thought was right and natural for us to do. It would be out of tune trying to sound like this or that band.
Can you tell me a bit about the traditions, the past, that you put into your music with the tribal aspect? And how did it shape up through the years?
We all have a history. A real history. Not the one written by a couple of constipated guys who distort the truth because they are afraid of what you are and can become. So we cling to our history, our truth. Our values. Honor, justice, peace, and love, as mentioned above. I don’t mean we are perfect but at least it is for example impossible for us to decimate a race for land. This is not in our blood. This is not part of our values and history. Music is meant to teach also. Teach the youngest the best way to choose and why. And this is what we do. A mission we have to accomplish. This is what shaped our music. Our education made our music.
As I understand, there’s also a spiritual side to the band, could you say something about that?
Sorry not to deepen the spiritual aspect of the band but here is what we can say. It’s sad to live half a life when you can live a full and complete life. Like it or not the spiritual is the essence of life. There is no ‘here’ without ‘there’. There is no ‘middle’ without ‘here’ and ‘there’. There is no ‘you’ without ‘I’ but at the same time there is only ‘i’ and nothing else. So mind what you think, say, and do. Do the right thing to the world since you are supposed to be the world. Honor life and differences, honor your soul and laws that sustain the universe. Be as humble as the waves of the powerful ocean washing your feet at the seashore. Teach people and show the way. Spirituality is not about religion but it’s a way of living we as a band have adopted.
You’ve released the album last year‘Za Keli’. what can you tell me about the title, the story, the message on this record that is really quite amazingly good? What has happened since its release?
In our Ewe language, Zã Keli means Darkness and Light, Night and Day. We chose to give that title to the album to make us always remember this duality sustaining this world and the fact that we must accept it, fit with it and do our share. You can feel “Zã Keli ” duality in almost all the lyrics of the album. You can feel it when in some songs we talk about that inner journey of human beings, through bright sunny flowered hills or dark infernal valleys, through laughter and tears, learning, growing, but keeping the inner core of his soul safe, untouched, bright and human. Zã Keli is there again, when you listen to some of our songs, beautiful peaceful words full of hope, and in other songs, war cries calling for a merciless fight against those who spread death on our Mother Earth, those who destroy innocent lives, out of hatred and greed. This album is also like an overview of the story of the band members, what we have gone through, for many years, our musical and technical evolution, our human and spiritual journey. The oldest song of the album was written before 2005 and the most recent one in early 2019. The album came to the world during a memorable release party in a club we used to perform. The following days, the album was available online, and there were amazing reviews from metal magazines in Africa and then writers and blogs here and there from five continents! It was like a new beginning, a new journey. Our fanbase has been growing since then and we are connecting with communities and other bands. Now we are working on the next album.
Can you describe the writing and recording process? Like, how do you approach the whole creative side of it, and who plays what part in it?
Rock is the composer and the writer. He creates the music and we play it with some modifications if necessary.
How was the reception of the album, did it help you connect to the wider African metal scene?
The comments regarding the album were positive. The album confirmed Arka’n as a serious band as well as the style. It’s been proof we took some way and were part of the metal community. It helped connect not only with the wider African metal scene but also with the world metal scene. Many things were planned for this year but the pandemic put everything on hold.
Which bands do you feel we should really listen to from your part of the world, and why?
Metal in Africa isn’t something so rare, and there are many bands I could recommend from Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa, Botswana, Uganda, Angola… Let me just name those who come to my mind now…Dark Suburb, a rock band from Ghana, a band of talented and committed brothers who always fights to raise people’s awareness of life in the slums, the hard reality there, but also all the huge potential of the forgotten souls there. Overthrust and Wrust from Botswana, which are the references of African death metal scene, Skinflint, heavy metal from Botswana too. Seeds of Datura and Last year tragedy from Kenya, the awesome Dividing the Elements, Myrath from Tunisia, one of the most worldwide known African metal bands, etc, etc…
How is your reception in Togo itself? Is there any censorship or social scrutiny you have to deal with?
Since we gave birth to our music from our roots there is no censorship. The listeners know what they are listening to. Even the ones living out of Togo. Like in Ghana for example, since we actually share the same rhythms and culture. Our messages are real and about life and society. Nothing eccentric or unethical. Unless being eccentric means to get up and fight for your future and freedom, for the ones we love. Unless being eccentric means following the footsteps left by those who’ve been here before us.
What is the biggest misconception you face as a band from Togo that plays metal?
We would be called ‘satanists’. That is how it was at the beginning. That western image of metal stuff. Wearing black and jumping here and there on stage, growling, etc… They thought it was western stuff that didn’t fit in here. But it changed quite fast as our fanbase grew and people wanted to understand what these crazy guys were doing on stage and what they were singing about.
What future plans does Arak’n have when the world turns back to normal?
Just one plan: hit the road and say hi to the world with more power and love.