The students at the Darunnajah boarding school in Jakarta, Indonesia comprise one of a small handful of all-female marching bands in the entire world. Six members, representing a range of musical talents, and the band’s director took the time to talk about being one of the few female marching bands in a country where their own head-coverings are accused of speaking louder than their music. These girls are your typical teenagers, who cite Katy Perry as a musical inspiration and get nervous around boys. But these students have a thing or two to teach us about creating a supersonic mini-revolution.
Indah Ayu Komalasari enrolled in the Darunnajah boarding school, unaware of its all-female marching band. Soon after, she joined the corps, picked up a trumpet, and now she aspires to become a professional marching band coach. The female corps at the school has sparked a fire under more than just one girl. Which is good news, for a niche of the music world that receives little media attention—so little, that it could be in danger of going extinct before the next generation. Fortunately, with or without anyone’s permission, the girls at Darunnajah are marching to the beat of their own drumming.
The Darunnajah school is a coed boarding school with a mix of extracurriculars. Particular to the mix is an all-female marching band established in March 1992. The corps is older than its performers, celebrating its twentieth year this past spring. The current director of the program, Rizma Yahya, boasts no background in music education, but her success story is a familiar one at the Jakarta school; as a student, she took an interest in the band, joined, and has utilized her passion for music to spark a new generation of passionate fledgling student musicians. A veritable gem in a barren landscape of androcentric marching band culture, the Darunnajah Marching Band fosters an environment of excitement–often coming from students who otherwise never would have considered a future in music. Not only are they learning a new instrument, they appear to be learning how to love and share this love of it as well.
The students are optimistic about their unorthodox band, and look forward to a future in music education and performances. Rizma acknowledges the concept is still new and foreign to much of Indonesia, but with ignited students getting real world and competitive experience, it looks like this isn’t just a passing trend. Nor is it easy to ignore an entire marching band coming your way. Especially when their uniform constitutes controversial head-coverings.
Among universal challenges to maintaining a band, Rizma discusses the issues that surround the headscarf that her players must wear. “That’s a challenge for me,” she says, “to maintain and prove to everyone that the female corps, wearing the scarf, can exist and be recognized.” Some outside critics have been distracted by the uniform they girls don–head-coverings in the national secondary school colors, a vibrant blue and white–and believe the cloth restricts the players’ capabilities. To Rizma, this is unfair and unwarranted dismissal of her girls’ abilities.
Although Indonesia does boast the single largest Muslim population in the world, the general use of head-coverings is optional and more reflective of social status than religiosity. Creed does not dictate the dress code for women, and many other religions are practiced in Indonesia; however, in private schools, the use of jilbabs (note: not hijabs, which are religious in nature) are mandatory for girls. The issue of jilbabs and head-coverings, despite being settled as far as legislation is concerned, remains a social controversy that has permeated deeply enough to provide doubt for critics of these girls. It reflects, more than religious tolerance, a question of whether young women may be taken seriously as musicians. According to such critics, the scarf becomes a cloak of invisibility–one of its purposes is to protect women from undesirable attention from men. The ironic twist to a female marching band donning jilbabs is a clash of intent: while the clothing may be worn to avoid excess attention, the very purpose of a marching band is to get attention.
A marching band is also about creating a sense of community. The members of the corps faced varying levels of initial support from families (although many do report that upon seeing the students’ developing interest in music, reluctant family members do rally up support), but the group itself is tightly bound. The girls’ music interests range from jazz to American pop music, and connect through their mutual appreciation and minor musical differences, to ultimately cohere for the group’s benefit.
And would these girls be interested in marching alongside the boys? Azzamatul Muafa, Snare Drum, although open to new challenges, also notes that playing with boys “obstructs girl power.” Alternatively, Anindya Putri Yustika, Quint tom, feels a coed band, with the help of male counterparts, may have a more “powerful” sound. Together, the students do agree that playing in an all-female band is an empowering experience, but playing in a coed group could be beneficial to climbing the ranks of the musical performance world.
At this point, the girls of the Darunnajah Marching Band have played local and national competitions, competing against both boys and girls, but they haven’t gone international yet–a longing voiced by Luthfi Fauzia, on Trumpet.
She aspires to become, simply, “the best international music player.”
Article By Liouxsie Doyle
Photos provided by band