Hard rock, Chimurenga and a da

Left to Right: Mike Pearce (guitar), Simon Buckett(bass guitar), Wes Niemandt(drums), Ryan Niemandt (Guitar and vocals)

Hard rock, Chimurenga and a dash of Zimbabwean politics: Meet the Kamikaze Test Pilots

Meet the Kamikaze Test Pilots, a Zimbabwean band in the UK. “On the one side we do hard rock,” they explain “and on the other side we sing in Shona”

Hard rock, Chimurenga and a da

Left to Right: Mike Pearce (guitar), Simon Buckett(bass guitar), Wes Niemandt(drums), Ryan Niemandt (Guitar and vocals)

The Kamikaze Test Pilots, based in Reading, are a four man affair: Ryan Niemandt on guitar and vocals, brother Wes on drums, Mike Pearce on guitar and Simon Buckett on base. “We’re a melting pot of all styles,” Ryan says proudly. “We’re predominately hard rock, and we do it pretty well, in what you could call ‘the toilet circuit’. But what we also do, is play Afro beat styles.” Indeed the fact that they are Zimbabwean means that it effects a lot of their music. “We do afro-beat music as a side project, but it’s proving to be quite popular at the moment,” they explained. “And we keep getting requested to play that, which is fun. “We keep having people come up to us at the end, and saying that our music reminded them of back home. So on the one side we do hard rock, and on the other side we sing in Shona, and we sing folk songs.”

The band is working to combine hard rock and afro-beat, but so far they admit that little has changed. “We’re beginning to get mixed audiences,” Ryan explains. “But so far the audiences tend to be rather segregated.”

Why is this?

Well it’s a cultural thing,” say Ryan and Wes. “In Zimbabwe there’s a different idea of what hard rock is; it’s still seen as being linked to burning bibles and Satanism. But on the other hand, there’s the idea that it’s just hard-edged. But in one or two tracks, we have got it right, and people have said as much.”

Indeed, this month Kamikaze Test Pilots have released video of their new track, “Chikken”. “It’s a reflective song,” says Ryan. “When my first moved over here, one of our friends got a into a bit of trouble with the wrong half, and it’s asking him: Don’t you know that’s bad for you and what are you doing?” But in true African style, the song is linked to the fable of Chicken Lickin, who thought the sky was falling down. “It’s the story of someone who’s very innocent to what’s happening around him, and at the same time he’s leading all of his equally naive friends down to the fox’s hole.”

I asked if this had a bearing on Zimbabwean politics, and the band’s answer was: “yes and no”. “[Zimbabwe’s politics are] part of who we are, as Zimbabwe’s had its fair share of turmoil,” Ryan and Wes explain. “But we try hard not to take sides, because that’s not what we’re about.” Despite these protestations, however, like most Zimbabwean expats they had a lot to say on the situation back home. “What we are about is a better life,” they explain. “When people get into power, they tend to abuse it and stick their hands in the till. But that’s not just in Zimbabwe; it’s prevalent everywhere, even in the UK. Just in Africa, it tends to be a bit more blatant.”

 So are they about justice, after all?

It’s put fire in our bellies,” Ryan admits. “Because nobody likes to see that happen on this scale, to any group of people.”

At the time of the interview, the Kamikaze Test Pilots had suffered a setback, as they were unable to take part in a UK tour. But even with this tour “in the can,” they were still excited by the African EP they had been working on. “It’s three tracks of chimurenga music,” they explain excitedly. “There are two of our own songs, and a very popular Zimbabwean song, called “Pidigori”, by the Zimbabwean artist Thomas Mapfumo.”

“We blended a few tracks in our last album, so it’s not a huge leap forward for us,” Ryan says. “But it’s not what our usual audience may have heard, so it might be a bit of a surprise for them. We’ve done these tracks a lot over the last two years, and we’ve slowly introduced them into gigs. Sometimes you get a good response, sometimes you don’t –it really depends on the crowds.”

After their next gig, the band are looking forward to a return to Zimbabwe. “We’ve some musician friends there,” Ryan says. “And it’ll be nice to see what the music situation is down there.”

But do the Zimbabwean Government worry them?

“We’ll mostly we get ignored,” Ryan and Wes explain. “Two of your our YouTube videos ruffled a few feathers over here, but we’re not that political, so I didn’t think we’d ever be targeted by anybody.”

Left to Right: Mike Pearce (guitar), Simon Buckett(bass guitar), Wes Niemandt(drums), Ryan Niemandt (Guitar and vocals)
Left to Right: Mike Pearce (guitar), Simon Buckett(bass guitar), Wes Niemandt(drums), Ryan Niemandt (Guitar and vocals)

And what would they like the audience to take away from their gigs?

“Just appreciate our music and have a good time,” Ryan says, to round it off. “We might want to mix a couple of serious messages into our tracks, but at the end of the day, we’re all about music, and music is about having a good time.”

The band’s next few gigs are lined up for the Global Cafe in Reading, and the Hobbit in Southampton on the 23rd and 24th of October.

Watch The Kamikaze Test Pilots perform “Chikken” in Bristol: