Two young Indian women on being metal musicians.
A jam session is on at a popular south Delhi jam pad. The guitarist strings a slow arpeggio,the drummer pounds his kit,and a vocalist croons in a contralto. A peaceful practice,till suddenly,lead vocalist Natasha Chowdhury,dressed in a black Iron Maiden tee and blue jeans,tears through. Contorting her face,and banging her head,she growls and screams,Dead bodies,dying souls/ Ammunitions,filling sights/ World will be hell,conquered/ Your honour,painted grime!/ We can see,what they have done to us / Facing hell,We are the only ones / Burnt to ashes!
Chowdhury is all of 19,an undergraduate student,and is quite feminine,with doe eyes and a soft face. An obvious contrast to what she is on stage: the lead vocalist of Delhi-based metal band Hypnotic Sunday,for whom she grunts,screams and bangs her head. I am a different person on stage. My friends dont know this crazy person, she says.
Metal and,more importantly,heavy metal the world of piercing growls and grunts,distorted guitars and deathly lyrics has been a boys turf for as long as we can remember. From the time Jimmy Pages pounding guitar riff in Led Zepplins Communication Breakdown and Ozzy Ozbornes growling of occult soothsaying worked their way up the popularity charts,the big bad world doesnt seem to have a space for women. But here they are,young women screaming and growling to find their place in the metal world.
I am used to getting curious looks from neighbours or commuters on local trains. People look at my black clothes,kohl-rimmed eyes and the tattoo on my neck and act all weird around me, says 18-year-old Pratika Prabhune,bassist-turned-vocalist of Mumbai-based metal band,Chronic Phobia.
Prabhune,along with Chowdhury,are the only two known women metal singers in the country. Neither dreamt of being metal vocalists though. Even as her Bengali parents played Salil Chowdhurys ditties and Madan Mohans songs on a cassette player,Chowdhury would tune in to Arch Rival,one of the few international metal bands with a female vocalist. At the time,Chowdhury,then a seven-year-old,was learning the guitar,singing for the school choir,and training to be an opera singer. My parents were so proud of me. They thought I would be one of the few opera singers in the country. But then I started growling one day, she says. Her friends introduced her to metal music,including Arch Rival,and she got attracted to the genre. Balancing both her and her parents wishes,she joined Hypnotic Sunday as their opera singer,but soon got in to grunting,growling and screaming.
Prabhune,on the other hand,would listen to her mothers old tapes of Dolly Parton and Johnny Cash. With her brother Pritesh Prabhune as the drummer of Chronic Phobia,there was music all around the home,and she learned to play the bass on her own. As luck would have it,Chronic Phobias bassist didnt turn up one day,and her brother asked her to join the band as a bassist. But she began singing to vent out her teen angst and turned into a vocalist.
How do the girls feel in the male bastion? Well,they try to fit in. Chowdhury,for example,gets one of her friends to alter cult shirts worn by her male friends to fit her size. Its self-chosen, she points out. Their families support them,but Chowdhury says her father still thinks she sings in an operatic style for the band. I am not too sure he likes metal, she says.
Chowdhury often battles the tangly-haired-drug-addict stereotype of a metal-head,she admits. The stereotypes are unending. Most metal musicians have day jobs and are not the kind to lie around stoned all day. We are as normal as anybody else. This is a misconception I would like to change, she says.
Both girls write their own songs,mostly about war and peace,sexuality and lovers,identity and norms. Basically,the brutalities of life, says Prabhune,who has grown edgier and slanted now.
Chowdhury,who is busy recording her album that will release in July,is confident of the relevance of metal in todays world. But she has a question to ask: Why is a genre that does not play by any rule still conservative when it comes to gender? Prabhune thinks it is to do with the way women are brought up and looked at in society. We are supposed to be the delicate ones. The ones who can be loved,not the ones growling horror lyrics. But this new face of women should be accepted, she says.