Performing in the scorching sun wearing long-sleeved shirts and Muslim headscarves, members of the all-female Indonesian alternative metal band Voice of Baceprot were unfazed by the stifling heat.
“Are you ready? You guys are looking good!” band frontwoman Firdda Kurnia shouted to a crowd of mostly teenagers gathered in front of a shopping mall in Garut district, West Java province, before launching into her opening guitar riff.
Guitarist and singer Firdda, drummer Euis Siti Aisyah and bassist Widi Rahmawati – fresh-faced high school girls who make up the Voice of Baceprot, or VoB – say they want to inspire fellow teenagers and smash stereotypes held by many in the West about covered Muslim women.
“We want to show that girls who wear hijab aren’t oppressed,” 17-year-old Firdda said after the band finished playing.
“We want to show that even though we play metal, we are not abandoning our identity and obligations as Muslims,” said Firdda.
All-female bands are nothing new in Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority country, but they usually dress like their Western counterparts.
Dara Puspita, a pioneering three-piece all-female rock band in the 1960s, was under pressure from then-president Sukarno, who saw Western music as a bad influence.
Indonesia has always been home to a thriving metal subculture, said cultural observer Hikmat Darmawan, noting that President Joko Widodo is an avid heavy metal fan.
“Rock music was an outlet for young Indonesians’ rebellion against the country’s past autocratic regimes,” he said, referring to the rules of former presidents Sukarno and Suharto.
Born to devout Muslim families and growing up poor in Garut, a small town in largely conservative West Java province about a four-hour drive from Jakarta, the VoB girls never dreamed of becoming musicians and did not learn to play musical instruments until they were teenagers.
They were introduced to the guitar and drums a few years ago as part of an extracurricular programme while they were attending an Islamic junior high school, or madrassa.
“We started out playing an acoustic guitar and broken drums from the school’s marching band,” said Euis, the drummer.
“There were no electronic instruments,” she added. “The school then bought a set of drums but I cried because I couldn’t use it.”
There was initial resistance to their choice of musical genre from family, teachers and neighbours, whose conservative views associated rock music with moral decadence, drugs and promiscuity.
“They would say that that metal is not for Muslim girls and that it’s Satanic music,” Firdda said.
“Our neighbours frowned when they saw us carrying the guitars. But that didn’t bother us because we enjoy what we do,” she said.
But attitudes are changing, with their parents no longer opposed to their career choice.
“They are now saying they are proud of us,” Firdda said.
The band, whose name means “noisy,” sings about social and environmental issues, such as in their single “The Enemy of the Earth is You,” and refrains from peppering their songs with religious messages.
“We are a band whose members are Muslims, but we are not an Islamic metal band,” Firdda said.
Firdda described the band’s genre as “nu metal” and said that its music is influenced by an eclectic mix of artists including Dream Theater, Lamb of God, Linkin Park, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Eminem.
The band has been invited to play on local television and is attracting a legion of fans in Indonesia and beyond, Firdda said.
After the band’s recent performance in Garut, local fans mobbed the girls behind the stage and asked to take selfies with them.
“We have fans in places across the country and overseas, including in Israel,” said Firdda, with a laugh.
The trio has won praise not only for breaking the mould of a typical metal band but also for their musical prowess.
“They have good skills and the fact that they wear hijab is a plus,” said Ade Nasruddin, a metal fan who attended the band’s live performance in Garut.
“The bass player is especially very good,” he said.
The band has also won plaudits from overseas viewers.
“There is nothing as truly cool, punk rock and rebellious, as a girl in a hijab with a guitar and microphone challenging the authority. Deep respect from a thinking American,” a YouTube user named Patrick Hayes wrote on one of the band’s videos.
The band is set to release an independent album later this year, to be distributed online. Some of the songs will be in English.
“We want people outside Indonesia to listen to our music. We have never been abroad but maybe someday we can perform overseas,” Firdda said.