A new community for metalheads of color is sprouting in Boston.
“No more being the odd one out or getting funny looks when you go to shows,” the Boston Heavy Metal POC group’s about page on Meetup.com reads. “We'll all be in this together.”
A metal fan for most of her adult life, 33-year-old Ebi Poweigha founded the club earlier this month. As of this writing, it has a dozen members.
Her inspiration, she said, is that for too long nonwhite fans of the music genre – the base of supporters for which is overwhelmingly white and typically male – has been less welcoming for listeners who don’t quite fit the mold. For the better part of two decades, Poweigha said, many in the metal community she loves have not known what to do with her, a black woman, at concerts. She’s often the only person of color in a packed venue, she said.
“I still go to shows by myself and get stupid questions: ‘Are you sure you want to be here? Do you know who’s playing?’” she recalled. “Sometimes people give you funny looks or shove you or stand too close to you because they don’t want you there. It doesn’t happen all the time, but it’s happened often enough where it doesn’t feel good.”
Sensing she wasn’t alone, Poweigha launched the city’s first club for metal fans of color on March 1.
Watertown’s Candice Crawford-Zakian, 38, was among those who signed up right away.
“I’ve been a fan of rock and metal for many years. I sang in bands for years. I’m usually the only black person, if not one of a very few,” she told Metro. “Sometimes I’ve gotten looks like I don’t belong, which is frustrating. It’s music. It’s universal.”
Metal, she said, can feel like a club. Long a refuge for people who can already feel like outcasts and devotees of a niche, aggressive sound, some in the metal scene make a habit out of deciding what’s authentically metal and what isn’t. That’s meant she’s been written off as an artist more times than she probably deserves, she said.
“It’s one thing when a guy screams in a rock song, but it’s just weird when a woman screams. ‘What is she so angry about?’ There are all kinds of assumptions.”
Mix that with a scene where shows are often rough, full of people shoving, swinging limbs and jumping on top of one another – in fact, that’s part of its allure – and a person who feels unwanted has lots of reasons to keep their guard up.
“It can get a little hairy,” she said. “I would like to go with people and have strength and numbers.”
Not everyone signed up for the same reasons.
Manaj Srivastava, 31, who moved to Massachusetts from India in 2010, said he joined up just because he loves the music and wanted to meet like-minded friends.
But several of the club's earliest members told Metro they immediately understood the Meetup's mission and saw the need for it.
It’s not a specifically Boston phenomenon, feeling left out of the subculture that orbits around metal music, said Canadian Brooklynite Laina Dawes. She literally wrote the book on the subject in 2013. She called it “What Are You Doing here?: A Black Woman’s Life and Liberation in Heavy Metal.”
The book and her media appearances that followed it haven’t had as big an impact as she might have hoped, she said. There was the predictable pushback.
“You get a demographic of metal fans who say, ‘If you don’t like it, leave,’” she said. “’If you don’t like this particular music scene, you people should be listening to hip-hop. Go over there.’”
Told about the new Boston meet-up and the early support it’s gotten, she cheered the idea, saying she’d never come across a group with a similar mission.
“It should happen more often,” she said.
Poweigha isn’t angry about how the scene has received her throughout her 15 years of fandom, isn’t trying to make a big statement and doesn’t want to spread a negative message about heavy metal, she said.
But she started the group because she worried people of color don’t go to metal shows because they don’t realize how many people like them are out there.
“Then hopefully it will get other metal fans to see that it’s not a strange thing,” she said. “We’re not anomalies.”