In Indonesia, 3 Muslim girls fight for their right to play heavy metal


Firdda Kurnia, 17, the guitarist and lead singer of the heavy metal band Voice of Baceprot, during a dress rehearsal in Jakarta, Indonesia, last month. PHOTO/ Kemal Jufri for The New York Times

The three teenage girls — shy and even seeming slightly embarrassed as they peer out from their Islamic head scarves — do not look much like a heavy metal band.

But a dramatic change occurs when they take the stage. All pretense of shyness or awkwardness evaporates as the group — two 17-year-olds and one 15-year-old — begin hammering away at bass, guitar and drums to create a joyous, youthful racket.

They are Voice of Baceprot, a rising band in Indonesia, a country where heavy metal is popular enough that the president is an avowed fan of bands like Metallica and Megadeth.

But beyond blowing away local audiences with their banging music, the three girls are also challenging entrenched stereotypes about gender and religious norms in the world’s most-populous Muslim-majority nation.

“Baceprot” (pronounced bachey-PROT) means “noise” in a common dialect in the West Java region, where the girls live and attend high school in a rural town, Singajaya.

They say they want to prove that they can be observant Muslims while also playing loud music and being independent.

“A hijab and metal music are different,” said Firdda Kurnia, 17, the guitarist and lead singer, referring to the traditional Muslim head scarf she and her bandmates wear. “A hijab is my identity, and metal is my music genre.”

In finding their voices and becoming a band, they say they have endured criticism from their families, friends and neighbors, and have received hundreds of online death threats for supposedly blaspheming Islam and not acting like proper Muslim girls — in other words, submissive, they said.

One night, while riding motorcycles home from a recording studio, they were pelted with rocks wrapped in paper inscribed with profane messages.

But they have fought back, through songs about intolerance, gender equality and the rights of young people in a country where issues like forced underage marriage are still prevalent, especially in rural areas like West Java.

Their tenacity is paying off. Last month, they performed before a crowd of 2,000 senior government officials, business leaders and student groups in the capital, Jakarta, as part of a celebration of the country’s 72nd independence anniversary.

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