Voice of Baceprot: How Indonesian Muslim Trio Found Freedom in Heavy Metal | Revolver

Voice of Baceprot: How Indonesian Muslim Trio Found Freedom in Heavy Metal

Covering Slipknot, RATM and more — even in the face of death threats
voiceofbaceprot_featured_credit_anton_ismael.jpg, Anton Ismael
Voice of Baceprot, 2021
photograph by Anton Ismael

In late July, the three members of the Indonesian metal group voice of Baceprot shared a live cover of Slipknot's blistering 2004 song "Before I Forget." Watching the band's impassioned, un-self-conscious playthrough, it's hard to imagine that the young women once regularly received death threats for their performances.

The rise of Voice of Baceprot — singer-guitarist Firdda Marsya Kurnia, bassist Widi Rahmawati and drummer Euis Siti Aisyah — has been swift but not easy. The band, who perform wearing hijabs in accordance with their Muslim faith, came to prominence in 2017 after they shared soon-to-go-viral covers of Rage Against the Machine, Slipknot and Pearl Jam online. But from the beginning, their glowing, widespread coverage was predicated on their sex, young age and outwardly modest appearance as Muslim women — the first sentence of a New York Times profile describes their hijabs and their apparent meekness, before any discussion of their music. Those same qualities also made them a frequent target for violent harassment: Driving home from the studio one night, the three were pelted with rocks covered in profanities. The band could have been scared into silence; instead, Kurnia, Rahmawati and Aisyah have bravely used their notoriety as a platform. Indeed, one of their singles, "God Allow Me (Please) to Play Music," is a direct response to critics who paint them as sinful heretics. Voice of Baceprot are reclaiming their narrative as female Muslim metalheads, winning over and inspiring fans around the world — including current and former members of Nirvana, Rage Against the Machine and Red Hot Chili Peppers — in the process. 

On their new EP, The Other Side of Metalism (Live Session), Voice of Baceprot pay tribute to the groups that inspired them with a mixture of covers and original music. They chose the four covers on the five-track release — RATM's "Testify," System of a Down's "I-E-A-I-A-I-O," One Minute Silence's "I Wear My Skin" and the aforementioned "Before I Forget" — because "those were the songs that gave us such a big impact throughout our musical journey over the past seven years," Kurnia tells us through a translator. "Metal music is the perfect genre for us to express ourselves," Rahmawati adds. "It's very powerful. It gives us freedom."

Their love of Slipknot, whose raging nu-metal clearly inspired early Voice of Baceprot originals, also stems from the masked Iowans' shared desire to cover up. "We were wondering how someone could continue to make music to the point of being so popular yet still consistently hide their faces," the band wrote in a statement when they released their rendition of "Before I Forget." For Voice of Baceprot, there is an obvious intrigue to transcending personal appearances. "We want to keep pushing forward by placing musicality above all else," they continued. "Without having to flog our appearance but also not abandoning our identity."

Like their heroes in RATM and SOAD, Voice of Baceprot have an unabashedly political agenda, updated for the crises of the next generation. Original "The Enemy of Earth Is You" is a fiery response to climate change, a topic of particular interest for the young band. "We feel that we actually already started to feel the impact of the lack of environmental awareness," Kurnia says. It's an especially pertinent issue in Indonesia, where illegal groundwater depletion, shorter rainy seasons and rising sea levels have already begun to affect their hometown: "Back in the village it's very hard for us to get clean water," Kurnia elaborates, referencing their rural hometown of Garut in West Java. "Caring about the environment is not just about being reactive now, but it's for the future."

The band's sense of frustration is also evident on original song "School Revolution." Initially released as a single back in 2018, it's a blistering takedown of the judgement they felt as teenagers in their conservative madrasas, or local Muslim school, where the principal went as far as to call their music "haram": forbidden according to religious law. "School Revolution"'s message of desperation and rebellion, sung in a mixture of English and their native Sundanese, is powerfully resonant — the song became a breakthrough hit for the group, winning endorsements from Flea and Krist Novoselic.

vob_getty_ahmad_pathonipicture_alliance_via_getty_images.jpg, Ahmad Pathoni/Picture Alliance via Getty Images
Voice of Baceprot, (from left) Firdda Marsya Kurnia, Euis Siti Aisyah and Widi Rahmawati, Garut, Indonesia, 2017
photograph by Ahmad Pathoni/Picture Alliance via Getty Images

Voice of Baceprot also amassed a groundswell of support from members of the local Indonesian music community. "School Revolution" was produced by guitarist Stephen Santoso, who performs in the metal band Musikimia. Once the three women relocated from Garut to Jakarta, they connected with guitarist Stevie Item, of technical death-metal heroes DeathSquad, and Barry Likumahuwa, a nationally renowned jazz bass player and producer. (The move to Jakarta was also well-timed: With the three now living together, they could continue to practice even during national pandemic lockdowns.)

Under the guidance of such supporters, Voice of Baceprot have honed their raw talent. All three band members began with no professional music training — a bit shocking, considering the incredible deftness and impeccable sense of rhythm evident from the group early on. "Since we're all self-taught, we learned a lot about basic skills and theories from those mentors," Kurnia says. "They perfected our basic skills and taught us music theory."

Despite the hurdles Voice of Baceprot have faced, Indonesia actually has one of the most vibrant metal scenes in Asia — even the country's president, Joko Widodo, is a professed metalhead. Voice of Baceprot remain one of the only fully female metal groups in the country, but they seem strengthened by the growing number of women involved in the local scene. When asked if their gender posed any barriers to success, Kurnia grins and answers, "No, not at all. Why is it a disadvantage?" Voice of Baceprot have an uncanny ability to gain power from their detractors — the naysayers "fired up our spirit," Aisyah adds. "It's making us stronger."

Whether powered by their critics or their rabid fan-base, Voice of Baceprot's star is undoubtedly rising: Tom Morello recently praised their Rage Against the Machine cover, they're writing more original songs and they've got their sights set on international tours. "We really want to play Coachella," Aisyah offers effusively. Perhaps their boundless enthusiasm is just a natural extension of their life philosophy, expressed both in their lyrics and in their interviews. "Be brave and be strong," Kurnia says unflinchingly, when asked about advice for aspiring female metal musicians. Aisyah jumps in with the mantra that describes their seven-year journey from rural schoolchildren to international metal phenom: "Don't be afraid to dream big."