From a heavy metal band in Hijabs, a message of girl power

The First Art Newspaper on the Net    Established in 1996 Monday, June 17, 2024

From a heavy metal band in Hijabs, a message of girl power
Heavy metal band Voice of Baceprot, from left: bassist Widi Rahmawati; lead guitarist and vocalist Firda Kurnia, who goes by Marsya; and drummer Eusi Siti Aisyah, known as Sitti, practice before a performance at Rights Fest, an event organized by Amnesty Indonesia, in Jakarta, Indonesia, Dec. 3, 2023. The band has earned a large domestic following in its near decade of existence with songs that focus on progressive themes like female empowerment, pacifism and environmental preservation — and now it is also winning fans overseas. (Nyimas Laula/The New York Times)

by Sui-Lee Wee

JAKARTA.- The drummer crashed her cymbals. The bass player clawed at her guitar. The crowd raised index and pinkie fingers in approval. The lead singer and guitarist stepped up to the mic and screamed, “Our body is not public property!” And dozens of fans threw themselves into a frenzy for the hijab-wearing heavy metal trio.

“We have no place for the sexist mind,” the lead singer, Firda Kurnia, shrieked into the mic, singing the chorus of one of the band’s hit songs, “(Not) Public Property,” during a December performance in Jakarta, Indonesia’s capital.

Nearly a decade after first emerging, Voice of Baceprot (pronounced bachey-PROT, meaning “noise” in Sundanese, one of the main languages spoken in Indonesia) has earned a large domestic following with songs that focus on progressive themes like female empowerment, pacifism and environmental preservation.

Now it is also winning fans overseas. It’s been praised by the likes of Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine. In the past year, the band — whose lyrics mix English, Indonesian and Sundanese — has played in the United States, France and the Netherlands.

At the Jakarta gig, Firda, 23, who goes by Marsya, told the crowd that the band was “a little sad and angry to hear that someone here was a victim of catcalling.”

“Anyone who does something like that, catcall or touch other people’s bodies without consent, those are the worst forms of crime,” she said. “Therefore, we can’t wait to curse this person through the following song.” And then the band played “PMS,” whose chorus is in Indonesian: “Although I am not as virgin as Virgin Mary / I am not your rotten brain servant / Although I am not as virgin as Virgin Mary / I am free, completely free.”

Voice of Baceprot may be the only prominent heavy metal band in Indonesia whose members wear hijabs, but the heavy metal music scene is long established here. Jakarta is the host of Hammersonic, Southeast Asia’s biggest annual heavy metal music festival. The outgoing president, Joko Widodo, is a fan of Metallica and Megadeth.

The members of Voice of Baceprot are all practicing Muslims in their early 20s. With songs that shatter stereotypes of gender, religion and class, they have become role models for many young women in Indonesia. At the concert, many fans moshed and banged their heads to the music.

Still, the group has faced critics. Indonesia, the world’s biggest Muslim-majority nation, is not a theocratic state and has always cherished its secular identity, but in recent years, parts of the sprawling archipelago have adopted a more conservative interpretation of Islam — one that disapproves of young women in hijabs playing heavy metal.

“They have come under criticism and all kinds of bullying, but that didn’t affect their determination to make music,” said Karim, a 54-year-old fan who traveled from Bogor to Jakarta for the December concert. Like many Indonesians, he uses one name.

The members of the band — Marsya; the drummer, Eusi Siti Aisyah, known as Sitti; and Widi Rahmati, the bassist — were all born and raised in Garut, a conservative part of West Java province.

Their parents are farmers. The house where Marsya grew up still has no running water, and the internet is spotty. Their childhoods were spent reading the Quran, playing games in rice paddies and listening to their parents’ music of choice, dangdut — a flavor of Indonesian pop.

The girls met as junior high students in an Islamic school, where they said they were “troublemakers.”

In 2014, they were sent to be counseled by Cep Ersa Eka Susila Satia, a teacher who first tried to get them into theater. But “their acting was horrible,” said Ersa, whom the women call “Abah Ersa,” or “Father Ersa.”

He directed them to play music instead, and they became part of a group of 15 students who dabbled in pop music. Then one day, the three girls borrowed Ersa’s laptop and discovered his playlist. They played “Toxicity,” the hit song by Armenian American metal band System of a Down, and were instantly hooked.

They asked Ersa to teach them how to play, and they started covering popular heavy metal songs and posting videos of their performances online. They were a hit.

Wendi Putranto, the manager for Seringai, one of the biggest heavy metal bands in Indonesia, recalled “being blown away.”

“It’s very brave for them to play this kind of music,” Wendi said. “I think that’s the most important thing: for them to show the people that, yes, we are women; yes, we’re wearing hijab; and yes, we’re Muslims who play heavy metal. So what?”

At first, the women were called all manner of profanities. The band offended many Muslim men who believed women wearing hijabs should be docile, not head banging to metal. One day in 2015, someone threw a rock at Marsya. Attached to it was a note with an expletive.

They were having trouble at school, too, where they were regarded as “public enemies,” said Sitti, 23. Their principal told the girls, Marsya recalled, “‘Your music is haram,’” or forbidden, and that they were “‘going to hell.’” They dropped out but eventually graduated from another school.

The hostility took a toll. “We told Abah we were tired, and we wanted to stop playing music because of that,” Marsya said. “And Abah said, ‘Why bother with humans? Just ask God directly.’”

That led to their 2021 hit song, “God, Allow Me (Please) to Play Music.” Ersa wrote the lyrics, and the women composed the music. They write their own lyrics now but continue to seek Ersa’s guidance.

Last year, the band went on its first tour in the West, performing in France, the Netherlands and nine cities in the United States. In Oakland, California, fans in the audience shouted, “Allahu akbar,” the Arabic phrase that means “God is great,” at them.

For those trips, they said, their management company advised them not to go outside without a minder to help keep them safe.

“They were afraid someone will shoot us,” said Widi, 22.

The women say the frequent questions about their headscarves bewildered them. “A lot of journalists asked about the hijab more than our music, like, ‘Who forced you to wear a hijab?’” Marsya said. “It was so weird.”

“We tell them that we wear hijabs because we want to,” she added. “And at first, yeah, our parents told us to try to wear the hijab, but after we’ve grown up, we can choose what we want.”

The women say they started wearing hijabs in elementary school. “But we wore miniskirts. The top was the Arab version; the bottom was the Japanese version!” Marsya said, laughing.

The women said they wanted to continue focusing their next songs on female empowerment and the environment. “We are worried about our future. Will we still be able to see the forest 10 years from now?” Marsya asked.

Many girls in their village are pressured to marry at a very young age, some as young as 12. “We realize now it’s a privilege for us to be heard by a lot of people,” she added. “That’s the thing that not all the girls from our village can have.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

Today's News

April 28, 2024

Maurizio Cattelan's got a gun show

Anders Wahlstedt Fine Art opens an exhibition of works by Liv Mette Larsen

At the Louvre, the Olympics are more French than you might think

Christie's to offer Property from the Collection of Mary & John Pappajohn

Titanic's treasures captivate collectors, but they'll need deep pockets

María Magdalena Campos-Pons opens an exhibition at Galerie Barbara Thumm

36 hours in Munich

Pin-ups, spicy pulp and Patrick Nagel's playmate take Heritage's illustration Art Auction to nearly $3 million

Preserving Black history, on T-shirts

Mickalene Thomas takes Los Angeles

Did Richard III kill the princes in the tower?

Art of the Islamic and Indian Worlds including Rugs and Carpets achieves £10,021,672

Exhibition features new embroidered photographic collages from Joana Choumali's "Alba'hian" series

Deep beneath London, onetime bomb shelters will become a tourist attraction

Colin Jost and Scarlett Johansson lead 'D.C.-Palooza'

From a heavy metal band in Hijabs, a message of girl power

A novelist who finds inspiration in Germany's tortured history

Noche Flamenca, raising the dead with Goya

Retrospective of Niki de Saint Phalle opens at Nelson-Atkins

'Forbidden Broadway' scraps summer Broadway run, citing crowded season

A wanderer, Ravel and Suzanne Farrell: Life is good at City Ballet

PEN America cancels World Voices Festival amid Israel-Gaza criticism

Anthony Roth Costanzo, star countertenor, to lead Opera Philadelphia

Richard Gordon's 18K Gold Omega Speedmaster sells for $138,908 at auction

The Latest Digital Tools for Real Estate Agents

Patek Philippe's Mastery of Complications

Museums, Exhibits, Artists, Milestones, Digital Art, Architecture, Photography,
Photographers, Special Photos, Special Reports, Featured Stories, Auctions, Art Fairs,
Anecdotes, Art Quiz, Education, Mythology, 3D Images, Last Week, .


Ignacio Villarreal
(1941 - 2019)
Editor & Publisher: Jose Villarreal
Art Director: Juan José Sepúlveda Ramírez
Writer: Ofelia Zurbia Betancourt

Royalville Communications, Inc
Founder's Site. Hommage
to a Mexican poet.

The First Art Newspaper on the Net. The Best Versions Of Ave Maria Song Junco de la Vega Site Ignacio Villarreal Site
Tell a Friend
Dear User, please complete the form below in order to recommend the Artdaily newsletter to someone you know.
Please complete all fields marked *.
Sending Mail
Sending Successful