Heavy metal in hijabs
As unlikely as it would seem, three Muslim schoolgirls have come to prominence across Indonesia playing, of all things, heavy metal music. Vocalist and guitarist Firdda Kurnia, drummer Eusi Siti Aisyah and bassist Widi Rahmawati, all grew up in a poor farming community in rural West Java, a conservative region of the country. Before attending a music class in 2014, they had never even heard of heavy metal.
However, after their middle school teacher, Ahba Erza, played them “Toxicity” by System of a Down, they were hooked. Erza, who is now band manager, taught the girls how to play instruments and the same year they formed a band, calling themselves Voice of Baceprot, which translates to “noise” in their traditional Sudanese language.
Despite having to endure harassment and criticism from conservative forces in Indonesia, Voice of Baceprot has played across the nation’s most popular stages. “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, she says, her parents became proud and supportive. Now, she is emboldened and proud to be an inspiration to other women. Speaking to NPR, “I’m a different musician because I’m a woman, and I play metal music, but I’m wearing hijab. Hijab is my identity, OK?”
According to Assembly, the girls now play around three shows a month as they continue to become one of Indonesia’s most iconic counterculture musical groups.
Other metal musicians have praised the teens for depicting the more diverse side of the genre since Firdda, Eusi, and Widi — now aged 19, 19, and 17 respectively — play their shows wearing leather jackets and hijabs.
With Indonesia boasting a thriving underground heavy metal scene, Voice of Baceprot has become more and more popular across the nation. Their Instagram page alone has wracked up more than 32,000 followers. The girls now hope their music will help people understand that Muslim girls can pursue their passions while still faithfully abiding by their religion. Not only that, they hope to show that metal music is for everyone, no matter their race or creed.
Although Firdda, Eusi and Widi were able to complete their secondary education and Indonesia has made progress for girls and women in recent years, challenges still remain. In 2018, there were almost two million girls out of school, particularly in rural regions and marginalised communities. The country also has the eighth highest number of child brides in the world.
The three believe music is the best way to address the issues they witness in their country and around the world “We are the young generation who will have an important role in the progress of human civilisation. We don't want generations after us to remain in the wrong system or way of thinking. As something that can be easily accepted by many people, we believe music is one of the things that can make a change for the better.”