"I am so hungry!” laments Voice Of Baceprot bassist Widi. Leaning on her shoulder, drummer Sitti looks like she has no energy left to comment. Only singer Marsya keeps her cool, taking a few selfies with her phone. It’s the middle of Ramadan, and 30 minutes before Iftar, when the girls will be able to break their fast. Here in Jakarta, Indonesia, it falls at around 6pm. We’re sitting in a tiny coffee shop, inside a quiet suburban housing complex, and Ghost’s Ritual is playing at a low volume from an unseen speaker.
The members of Voice Of Baceprot, sitting side-by-side in their black hijab, black t-shirts and black trousers, look like millions of other cheerful women in their early 20s in Jakarta. However, they’re the only ones who have played at Wacken, and gained approval from the likes of Slash and Rage Against The Machine’s Tom Morello. Forming at school in 2014, they went viral four years later with School Revolution – a song about pushing back against rules and advocating for students to follow their dreams. Last year, they received an AMI award – the Indonesian equivalent of the Grammys or the Brits – for Best Rock Group. While they initially made headlines for being God-fearing girls playing the Devil’s music, there’s much more to Voice Of Baceprot.
Firda Marsya Kurnia, Widi Rahmawati and Euis Sitti Aisyah met at a Madrasah Tsanawiyah – an Islamic equivalent to a junior high school – in the mountainous district of Singajaya in Garut Regency, West Java. Six hours’ drive from Jakarta, it’s so rural that “even the Regent [elected leader] of Garut didn’t know that Singajaya existed!” Marsya exclaims.
The name ‘Singajaya’ can be loosely translated into ‘The Winning Lion’. Legend has it that a magical half-warrior, half-lion being dwells in the terrain that surrounds the district, consisting of lush pine forests, farmland and tea plantations under the shadow of Mount Cikuray. The people in Singajaya hold on to their ethnic Sundanese culture tightly and are devout in their Islamic faith. It’s common for girls to wear headscarves outside the house, or inside the house when their parents have guests. So, wearing hijab in public is normal for Voice Of Baceprot – it’s a part of their outfit.
The trio were born into the families of farmers who live a self- sufficient life of tending vegetable gardens and breeding goats. They mostly listened to dangdut, a genre with danceable tunes and lyrics about heartbreak. Despite being popular, it’s ironically perceived as being the music of the poor and tasteless, and the girls talk about their dangdut roots as a guilty pleasure.
“Besides listening to my mother’s dangdut collection, I also used to listen to what was popular at that time on TV, such as Cherrybelle and Coboy Junior,” Sitti says, referencing two teen bubblegum pop groups who were big in the 2010s. They discovered metal by chance, when they borrowed their drama teacher’s computer to do their homework and found his playlist, featuring System Of A Down, Slipknot and Metallica.
“We were instantly hooked by the songs – especially Toxicity by System Of A Down,” Widi says. “We told ourselves, ‘Wow, this is a breath of fresh air from all of that dangdut and Cherrybelle music!’”
The metalhead drama teacher was Erza, whom they affectionately call Abah, a Sundanese word for ‘father’. A music aficionado, he introduced the girls to their respective instruments, and after forming Voice Of Baceprot –‘baceprot’, pronounced ‘bah-che-prot’, means ‘noisy’ in Sudanese – the girls would jam in an empty school storage room. Abah became their manager, booking shows around Garut where the band would play nu metal covers, videos of which went viral. “He has the basic skill to play various instruments, but he is mediocre in all of them!” Widi laughs.
The first few years of Voice Of Baceprot were challenging. Playing music is still frowned upon in conservative Islamic society, especially if it’s Western rock music played by young girls. Instead of telling their parents they were having regular band practices, the trio lied and said they’d joined the Girl Scouts.
“My parents are the most conservative among them,” Widi says. “There was one time that I was grounded for one month, and they forbade me from playing music at all. Until Marsya came and told my parents that we did not do any sinful things while playing music.”
One morning, Marsya’s family woke up to discover her mother’s fresh produce store had been vandalised by unknown perpetrators, who left a note saying that bad things would happen if she did not stop playing music. Another time, her bedroom window was smeared with a painted message in Sudanese: ‘Maneh geulis ngan hanjakal umurna moal panjang’ (‘You are pretty but you won’t live long’).
“A person threw a stone at me when I was coming back from rehearsal. The stone was wrapped in paper with a written threat,” she says.
Many local ultra-conservative groups say music is haram – forbidden – according to their interpretation of Islamic teaching. This led to the girls getting expelled. “The headmaster said, ‘Music is haram’,” Marsya laughs. “Luckily, we got accepted at another school who saw our value and even embraced our status as musicians.”
In 2018, Voice Of Baceprot signed with Jakarta-based booking agency Amity Asia, which represents South East Asian talent across many genres, meaning they’re on the same roster as bands such as Bali’s punk rock trio Superman Is Dead and pop-jazz band Ten2Five. Due to bureaucracy that makes it difficult for civil servants such as teachers to resign, Abah Ezra stepped back as manager, but he’s still available whenever the girls need guidance. “It all started from Abah, really,” Marsya said. “We still call him every now and then.”
After graduating from high school, the band moved to Jakarta in 2020, where they now live together. They spend their days writing songs and having music lessons with high-profile mentors: Andyan Gorust from death metal band Hellcrust and Gusti Hendy from rock band GIGI for Sitti; Stevi Item from death metallers DeadSquad for Marsya; and jazz bass player Barry Likumahuwa for Widi. During 2021-2022, Voice Of Baceprot toured Europe, including a stop at Wacken. Along the way, they experienced many firsts, including seeing snow in Switzerland and meeting other supportive women in the metal scene.
“When we joined the panel at Wacken Open Air, ‘Let Women Do The Talking’, we met and chatted with Tracy Vera, president of Metal Blade Records, and Jenny Douglas [from 5B Artist Management], the tour manager of many of our favourite bands,” Widi says. They point to other all-girl bands that are rising in their country, such as The Dare, based on the Indonesian island of Lombok, and hardcore unit PEACH. “I also listened to the Bandung-based band, Bánanách, yesterday! They have great songs,” Marsya tells us. “It is so relieving to meet all of these incredible women in the music industry, who see us as friends, instead of seeing us as rivals or enemies!” she adds, mentioning that internalised misogyny is rampant among the women in the local, male-dominated metal scene.
The band no longer face negative comments from family and friends. “When we come home, we often play pretend that we are the rich aunties from the city,” Marsya giggles. “It is nice to be able to buy my parents stuff without having to worry about the price.”
Marsya, aged 22 (Sitti is also 22, and Widi 21), says if they hadn’t found metal, and had stayed in Garut like many of their peers, they might already have kids. “Many of my friends are married with children now; some of them have even married and divorced several times over,” she says. “Music saved us from that kind of life."
There's 15 minutes left before Iftar, and Voice Of Baceprot's tea, bring over a selection of fish dumplings, donuts and rice cakes, which the girls stare at longingly. Their manager, Dani, also puts a plate of rice, fried fish and spicy chilli paste sambal in front of each of them.
"These girls always have their rice for Iftar. These little snacks won't be enough," he tells Metal Hammer. "And the food has to be spicy. It became quite a problem when we toured Europe, as it was difficult to find rice dishes and proper sambal." Now they've impressed Europe, the band's ambition is to tour America. But first, they're releasing their debut album, RETAS. "We are tired of being called a cover band!" Sitti laughs.
On RETAS, an Indonesian word for 'the act of hacking' or 'disrupting', they're continuing to sing about social issues such as gender equality, religious tolerance and global warming, and have written lyrics in Bahasa Indonesia, Sudanese and English. Their latest single, The Enemy Of The Earth Is You, is about the environmental impact of tourism. West Java, the closest province to Jakarta, has seen an influx of holidaymakers who are sharing their experiences on Instagram and TikTok, resulting in certain rural destinations going viral. The local populations then struggle to cope with the extra people and, once the trend is over, the land is left littered with rubbish. In some cases, trees are cut down for tourist infrastructure, increasing the risk of avalanches, flooding and temperature rises.
"Garut is now significantly warmer than when we were children," Marsya explains. "Also, many city dwellers go there for the scenery but at the expense of the local community. When the locals play in the rivers, it becomes a circus to the watchers. Once we went back to Garut, and we found some rivers that we used to play in as children had been turned into this Instagramable tourist bait." It doesn't bode well for the future of the planet. "We're farmers' daughters through and through," Marsya adds.
Voice Of Baceprot are keen to use social media for activism, but their management team also recognise that it helps raise the band's profile. This afternoon, their content creator asks them to pose for photos with their Iftar food. However, with growing exposure to the outside world comes a growing pressure.
"People would expect me to be magically skilful with my blastbeats after moving to Jakarta and having lessons with Andyan Gorust and Gusti Hendy, while in fact it's really hard!" Sitti says. "As for me, I often get unsolicited DMs from middle-aged men!" Marsya laments.
She has 78,000 followers on Instagram, compared with Sittit's 67,000 and Widi's 52,000. "Many old, fat men with wives DM me with messages like, 'Hi, can I call you 'baby'? You remind me of my daughter.' Why can't you just take care of your daughter then?"
The call for the dusk prayer finally arrives, and it's time to break the fast. After a short cheer and congratulating themselves for managing it, they say a quick prayer, sip from their tall glasses of ice-cold water, and attack the fried fish. Voice Of Baceprot have already achieved so much, but their journey's only just begun. Not only do they intend to carry on raising awareness of injustice; they want to become role models who can empower the next generation of women to dream big and make their own decisions.
"I hope that what we achieve shows to the little girls in Garut that the world is really, really big, and that going out from your hometown is not scary," says Sitti. "And that it is OK to do what you want."
Published in Metal Hammer #376