In Indonesia, hijab headbangers trade village life for metal heaven

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Hijab-wearing, headbanging Indonesian VOB has some of rock music’s biggest stars among their fans, but the all-female heavy metal band has faced a tougher battle to conquer their parents.

The small trio behind Voice of Baceprot have spent years honing their skills at music festivals in the world’s largest Muslim-majority country after forming VOB as a young teenager in 2014.

It’s a far cry from the conservative city in West Java province where they grew up, ignoring the backlash from neighbors and family members to pursue their passion.

“Because of metal music, I have the courage to speak my mind and the confidence to be different,” 19-year-old bassist Widi Rahmawati told AFP during a recent jam session.

“When I’m on stage, I can express myself without worrying about the standards people expect of me.”

Obeying these standards would have forced the three women to marry right after high school.

“My parents told me that reading was useless, let alone playing music,” said singer and guitarist of the band Firda Marsya Kurnia, 20, said.

“They said that when I got married, my future husband wouldn’t tell me to read books, but to cook or clean the house instead.”

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The trio’s stubborn determination ultimately won over their skeptical parents, and they moved to the capital Jakarta last year to hone their talents.

“Music is a place where we can gain happiness and share it with other people,” Kurnia said.

“We’re just thankful if the audience receives something, like a message, from our music.”

– “Tough ladies” –

The move to the big city comes after their popular 2018 single “School Revolution”, which targeted Indonesia’s strict education system.

Today, much of their compositions focus on the role of women and environmental issues.

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VOB’s critiques of conservative social values ​​resonate across borders and could win them a wider international audience, music expert Yuka Dian Narendra said.

“The group is a reflection of traditional Muslim girls in Indonesia,” he added.

VOB first gained international attention when online videos of them pumping up covers of songs caught the attention of Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic, Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Flea and guitarist from Rage Against the Machine, Tom Morello.

“We didn’t expect that kind of attention,” Kurnia said. “It was like a dream.”

The group has given several concerts online since the pandemic ended most cross-border travel, including the WOW UK Festival in England and the Global Just Recovery Gathering.

They hope their catchy songs will one day secure them a spot at America’s premier Coachella music festival and the chance to collaborate with the System of a Down idols.

In the meantime, VOB says they will continue to draw inspiration from the women of their hometown, where many do grueling farm work.

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“The women there are treated like second-class citizens,” drummer Euis Siti Aisah said.

“But there are a lot of tough women in our village.”

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