The All-Girl Metal Band Breaking the Rules in Indonesia
The Indonesian metal group Voice of Baceprot is one noisy band. In fact, the band's name literally means "noisy" in the ethnic Sundanese language the three members speak. They all hail from a rural, conservative part of Indonesia — West Java — about five hours southeast of the capital of Jakarta. But it isn't just the band's loud music that's attracting attention: Voice of Baceprot has also entered the spotlight for breaking the mold of a typical metal band.
For starters: The band is made up entirely of teenage schoolgirls. Vocalist and guitarist Firdda Kurnia, drummer Eusi Siti Aisyah and bassist Widi Rahmawati, who formed the band in 2014, are all daughters of local farmers. They grew up poor and attend one of the many madrasas, or Muslim schools, in the area. It was there that the three were introduced to metal music by their middle school guidance counselor, Ahba Erza.
"I don't know why the girls love the metal bands," says Erza, who taught the girls the instruments and would go on to become their band manager. Before Erza, the members of Voice of Baceprot didn't even know what metal was, but the genre has now become a way of life for them. "I found myself in the metal music," says Kurnia, 17.
The band's music is inspired by the likes of metal music legends such as Slipknot, Lamb of God and Rage Against The Machine. As the band's popularity continues to grow, Voice of Baceprot is fast becoming part of a thriving underground metal scene in Indonesia, which has fans in some of the highest places: Indonesian President Joko Widodo is known for being a huge metalhead.
Voice of Baceprot performed on Indonesia's most popular television variety show in June — an important achievement for such a young band. But the milestone is lent even more significance because of who Kurnia, Aisyah and Rahmawati are. As young women, their very presence on stage is making waves throughout the conservative corners of their community and even Indonesia as a whole.
Indonesia is the world's most populous Muslim nation and is also a place where pluralism and religion often rub against each other. So it may come as no surprise that Voice of Baceprot has caused some consternation among Indonesia's more religiously conservative. Not only are they women playing loud, abrasive music in public; they also perform while wearing the hijab, the head scarf traditionally worn by Muslim women.
Kurnia and Erza say the band members receive phone calls and messages all the time telling them to stop playing their music, and that they are often bullied on social media.
"They say my music is forbidden by my religion," says Kurnia, whose own parents forbade her from playing in the beginning. But as the band's popularity grew, Kurnia says, her parents became proud and supportive. Now, Kurnia says, she is emboldened and proud to be an inspiration to other women.
"I'm a different musician because I'm a woman, and I play metal music but I'm wearing hijab," she says. "Hijab is my identity, OK?"
The girls know what they've gotten themselves into, Ezra says. "They have many dreams in their brains," he says. "They have to make their dreams, but they have to brave the consequences."
Thankfully, Voice of Baceprot has supporters in Indonesia's music scene they can count on. Giring Ganesha, vocalist for the Indonesian pop band Nidji, is one of them. He met Voice of Baceprot backstage once when they were both performing on the same television show. Ganesha describes the band's performance as "jawdropping."
For three girls their age from outside the city to have such talent and skill is very surprising, Ganesha says, and it makes him happy to see them performing.
"They're embracing pop culture. They're embracing rock," he says. "They show that, 'OK, my religion is Muslim, that is my identity,' but still I know they can embrace music, embrace rock music and have fun with it."
Today, Voice of Baceprot mostly plays covers. But they have released a few of their own songs, including one about the state of education in Indonesia and another about protecting the environment, titled "The Enemy of Earth is You."
Kurnia says she hopes to play in England and Paris one day. "I hope my band will be successful," she says, "and can be the inspiration of younger generations." But for now, the band has a more immediate goal: get an album out by the end of this year.
(This article originally appeared on npr.org and was written by Ashley Westerman)