BAHRAIN: First all-girl rock band fights taboos, dreams to jam in public
So at night, 30-year-old "Emz" and 23-year-old "Dyaz", who make up the duo of the Bahraini band Scarlet Tear, bring out the guitar and jam in secret at home.
The next morning, the nose piercings come off and jeans and casual T-shirts are exchanged for slick corporate wear and BlackBerries at work.
Step by step they hope to become Bahrain's first recognized all-female rock band, fighting the taboo and stigma surrounding their music genre and non-mainstream female musicians in their country.
"We want to prove to people that if girls want to do something they can, especially if they put their mind into it. We want to be the first out there and influence others to do the same. If you like something, go along with it and do it," Emz told Babylon & Beyond over the phone from Bahrain. She says that there are no non-mainstream female musicians in Bahrain who publicly announce that they play music.
Scarlet Tear started off in 2009 with Dyaz on vocals and Emz on guitar (neither of them wanted to have their real names published). Their songs range from the darker side of hardcore heavy metal, captured in the song "Scarlet Tears," to softer grunge and rock tunes echoed in the track "Shades of Trees."
The duo is working on their first demo. One of their upcoming tracks is a song titled "Through the Mirror.""It's softer and has a lot of value to us because it’s the first song we sat down and jammed together on. It means a lot to the band," Emz said.
Scarlet Tear has drawn its inspiration from bands and artists such as The Red Hot Chili Peppers, the Cranberries and Alanis Morissette. Most of their lyrics are based on the band members' personal experiences, troubles and encounters of everyday life.
"Whenever I feel down I start writing about it," Dyaz said.
But while the freewheeling tiny Gulf Kingdom with its bars and clubs (although religious conservatives have recently sought to curb such establishments) is considered far more tolerant and open-minded than its ultra-conservative neighbor Saudi Arabia, Emz and Dyaz say it's not easy to stick out as a metal head or a rocker in Bahrain, especially if you're a girl.
"For females it's a hundred times worse. Reputation is a big thing in our country. If you have a bad reputation you won't get married and everyone knows everyone. Girls in in our society don’t really do it. They're not really used to grab a guitar and jam in front of people. Its more taboo to be female and playing that kind of music than being a guy," Dyaz said.
"Rock music is related music to satanism here. We can't perform live. They say it's open-minded here but all such performances are canceled by the religious police. Then the next day in the local media they call them satanic," she said.
Last year, police reportedly arrested a guitarist at the "Rage to the Extreme" rock concert in Bahrain because he wore a T-shirt with a print of a "devilish" figure and the slogan "God's Busy ... Can I Help?".
The police reportedly shut down the event and hauled the guitarist with the suspect T-shirt into a police station where law enforcement officers photographed his shirt and body piercings.
"Through Facebok and Myspace they can get exposed to our music. A lot of metal bands came out. They're pretty good and up to international standards but they have nowhere to perform. Only on the Internet," Emz said.
They say feedback has been overwhelmingly positive apart from a demeaning commentary here and there.
"There was once someone who posted something on Islam on our Facebook page. Religious stuff," Emz said. "But don't get us wrong. We fast, we pray -- we are practicing Muslims. Jamming, it's just like doing anything else in our lives. Like going to work."
While they won't go on stage in Bahrain just yet, the band members say they'd definitely be up for a live gig in another country should an invitation come.
And they'll continue jamming and writing music with or without the blessing of the authorities or society.
"It's something we believe in. We're going to encourage something to happen. Start a movement," said Dyaz.
-- Alexandra Sandels in Beirut
Photos: Scarlet Tear logo. Credit: Scarlet Tear. Lower image: A DJ plays music in a nightclub in Bahrain in 2007. The Gulf Kingdom is considered more open-minded and more tolerant than its neighbor Saudi Arabia, but heavy-metal and rock music performances have not always proven popular with the authorities. Credit: Agence France-Presse.