I’m always grateful when a fellow blogger suggests a possible topic for one of my posts, since many days I have trouble coming up with an idea.
So a big thank you to Jeff Cann at the wonderfully eclectic blog, The Other Stuff, for the inspiration for this week’s Music Monday.
My guess is that no one has heard of Voice of Baceprot (VOB), an Indonesian all-female rock trio formed in Garut, West Java in 2014. Neither had I, until Jeff mentioned them and provided me with the link to their Wikipedia page, which is where much of the following information was found. The Red Bulletin, a publication from Red Bull, was also a useful source of background on the band.
The word baceprot means “noisy” in Sundanese and is meant to represent the band’s musical style. The band sings in both English and Sundanese.
All three girls had been learning to play musical instruments at school and were encouraged by their theatre coach to sign up for band competitions, who later went on to become their manager as well as lyricist. The band began posting covers of various songs to YouTube, and a cover of a Rage Against the Machine song in 2015 generated a good deal of views. This was followed by covers of songs from Red Hot Chili Peppers, Metallica, and Slipknot, which helped them to gain attention from both local and international media.
In 2018, VOB signed a deal with Jakarta-based booking agency Amity Asia. Not long after, they released their long-awaited debut single, “School Revolution”. The single gained the band significant traction and they received a number of invitations to perform at international music festivals.
When American rock band Guns N’ Roses played at the Gelora Bung Karno Stadium in Jakarta in November 2018, guitarist Slash invited the trio to meet him backstage. They received further endorsements on social media from Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello and Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea, as well as Living Colour guitarist Vernon Reid.
In early 2021, VOB returned to the studio to work on “God, Allow Me (Please) to Play Music”, their first original single in three years. The song was released on 17 August 2021, preceded by an EP of five live tracks, titled The Other Side of Metalism (Live Session).
The band presents a seemingly contradictory image, with their heavy style of playing, in contrast to their modest Islamic attire, including the hijab, worn by all three members. This has caused them to receive criticism from some conservative Muslims in their hometown of Garut, and the trio claims they have zero friends.
“In my village, if someone sees me, they turn their back like this,” says Marsya (full name Firdda Marsya Kurnia), the 20-year-old lead singer and guitarist. She turns so only the black folds of her hijab are visible, before spinning back with a bright grin. “It’s true!”
“Yes,” adds drummer Sitti (Euis Siti Aisyah), also 20, “but some people who were mean at school message us when they want something.” Bassist Widi (Rahmawati), the band elder at 21, shakes her head disapprovingly. Although they don’t have any friends, VOB have plenty of followers – 163,000 and rising on their collective Instagram, and more than 30k each individually.
While metal music is massive in Indonesia (even the country’s 60-year-old president, Joko Widodo, describes himself as a metalhead), many in VOB’s community believe music is haram (forbidden by Islamic law), so they didn’t react well when the trio ventured into metal. Marsya was hit on the head by a rock wrapped in a note that read: ‘Stop making the devil’s music’. She was also purposely hit by a motorcyclist, and her mother’s shop window was smashed in. Once, a religious leader pulled the main power supply just before VOB went on stage, and their manager has received threatening phone calls pressuring her to break up the band.
Some local bands didn’t appreciate the three young women coming along and stealing the show. They talked smack behind their backs and claimed VOB were paying to perform at festivals. Now, VOB have their full support.
VOB’s tracks address issues such as religious tolerance, climate change, misogyny, and war, and Nadia Yustina, their current manager, admits she sometimes feels guilty about the responsibility on their shoulders. “It’s up to them to show the world what Islam means in Indonesia,” she says, “and to show the youth of Indonesia they can do whatever they set their minds to.”
As the Red Bulletin article notes: “VOB aren’t messing around: these young women have sacrificed everything to make their dreams a reality.”
I wish them the best.
*image from Voice of Baceprot