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'Voice of Baceprot,' also known as VoB, is a three-piece band made comprised of young women who wear hijabs, with their jeans, tees and trainers and guitars. They might cut slight figures but they make LOUD music.
“At first I couldn’t get my parents approval," drummer Siti tells SBS Indonesia. "But things changed when we began to get awards at music festivals.”
The trio have been featured in mainstream and social media in Indonesia, Australia and Europe after their most popular music video 'The Enemy of the Earth is You' (above) went viral on social media, quickly racking up over half a million views.
When they perform their mix of traditional heavy metal covers and originals that blend western pop, post-punk, Indonesian pop and funk, VoB have been depicted as smashing the stereotyping of Indonesian Moslem women. But the members of VoB, Firdda Kurnia, Euis Siti Aisyah and Widi Rahmawati, view their mission a little differently.
While helping to break down the stereotype of Indonesian Moslem women has been important, the girls’ transformation from the most bullied but refractory students at their school, into role-models with a mission, may be just as important. Their real story is about their sense of purpose, creativity, personal strength in the face of recurring prejudice. It is also proof of the important motivational role a mentor can play.
SBS Indonesian spoke to Voice of Baceprot and their mentor, Abah Erza to find out more.
Firdda plays guitar and sings, Siti is the drummer and Widi plays bass. They come from the regency of Garut, in the province of West Java in Indonesia.
“We chose metal because it is the music of rebellion and best represents our anxiety and the anxiety of youth.”
The name Voice of Baceprot is important. It comes from Sundanese, the language of West Java. Bassist Widi explained that Baceprot can mean having a tendency to talk and whinge a lot but is probably best translated in this context as rowdy. This name complements their musical style and their choice of music and explains why three year 10 students from an Islamic school in Garut chose ‘metal’ as the starting point for making music.
Firdda explains that, “We chose metal because it is the music of rebellion and best represents our anxiety and the anxiety of youth.”
VoB grew out of anxiety and frustration. The girls were rebellious, anxious, bullied adolescents while their teacher, Abah Eerza, was frustrated with their attitude and the complaints he got about them from other teachers.
He thought music might be a way to help Firdda, Siti and Widi deal with their anxiety and behavioural problems. But this initiative resulted in a lot of opposition born out of prejudice and inflexibility.
At first, members of the school community expressed strong concern about what the girls being in a metal band represented. There were also problems at home. Siti tells SBS Indonesian that she could not tell her parents about the band.
Then there was the problem of getting expensive equipment. Siti explains, “Abah Eeerza looked after that!”
Abah Eeerza, who has now left the Islamic school to teach in a government school, moved from being the band’s teacher to being their mentor.
The girls have described him as being their motivator and provocateur. According to Firdda “We call him that because he motivates us and even provokes us to continue to fight for what we believe in and to take our message to as many people as possible.”
However, both the band and Abah Eeerza make it clear that there are limits to his involvement. For example Firdda emphasised that their choice of musical style and performance has always been their choice and what they believe will best express what they are feeling. Firdda said:
Firdda added that in keeping with their mission they sometimes choose to sing those stories in English to reach a wider audience for their messages.
“Abah Eerza directed us to music, but we chose the music that we felt would best tell our stories.”
The girls emphasise that the real impact of their successful musical life has been to make them more disciplined. They are grounded and believe they have changed little as people. They acknowledge that learning to deal with failure and disappointments is something they have to learn to deal with. Abah Eerza insists this is an important part of Firdda, Siti and Widi’s personal development .
Those experiences and disappointments also inform their songs which mainly deal with what Widi calls ‘moral crises,’ or ethical issues. An example is “The Enemy of the Earth is You,” a slamming indictment of narcissism and hypocrisy that gained them viral fame in Indonesia and abroad after racking up over 600,000 views on Facebook.
Widi said that wide reading also influences their song writing. She cited the Indonesian author Pramoedya Ananta Toer and philosopher, guerrilla and activist Tan Malaka as important influences.
Abah Erza said that some people objected to these choices as ‘leftist.’ The girls meanwhile are unrepentant. 19th century Lebanese-American artist and poet Khalil Ghibran is another favourite.
VoB have withstood the prejudice and rejection they faced and have grown as a group. With broad coverage on traditional and social media in and outside Indonesia, Voice of Baceprot is now a phenomenon, known for music and not just for the contradiction of three girls in hijabs playing metal and post-punk anthems. Yet, they remain grounded and loyal to their true selves and to their mission.
VoB are still committed to spreading honest messages about moral crises to a broad audience. Who knows? They may even bring those messages to Australia soon.