A video of a girl rapping at a local competition in Perak, Malaysia, went viral last November 2018. She was the only female at the event. She was also wearing a hijab.
Noor Ayu Fatini Mohd Bakhari’s status has only soared since then. The rapper, who goes by the stage name Bunga, has since been invited to 16 Baris, a popular cypher show on Youtube known for highlighting up-and-coming artists from around Southeast Asia. The show has over 159,000 subscribers.
Her biggest showcase to date has come more recently at this June’s Malay arts festival, Pesta Raya, in Singapore. The festival is an annual showcase of Malaysian culture, from music to dance to theatre.
Bunga is one of the few known rappers in Malaysia who wears both a hijab and baju kurung, a traditional Malay dress. Although the hip-hop scene in the country exploded in the 1990’s, its powerhouses remain predominantly male. Her performance on 16 Baris was really what sparked Malaysia’s attention – in part because of her wearing a hijab, a part of Islamic standards of modesty.
In the past few years, other hijabi rappers have come under the spotlight for using music to speak about issues they face today. Take Neelam Hakeem, whose raps are centered around standing in solidarity with fellow Muslims and women. Or Syrian-American rapper Mona Haydar, who also garnered fame for both wearing a hijab and for lyrics on immigration and living in Trump’s America.
Like these rappers, Bunga made a conscious choice to retain her faith and pursue a career in the industry simultaneously.
But Bunga’s decision to wear traditional clothing at the competition in November came minutes before she was about to perform on stage.
“When I reached the venue, I was wearing regular clothes,” she told the Associated Press. “At the very last minute, I bought myself a baju kurung at the venue itself.” She now wears it every time she’s on stage.
The rise to success hasn’t come without obstacles. Bunga has been chastised for “bringing down the image of women” by choosing to rap while wearing a hijab. Regardless, she consciously avoids obscenity in her music. Her raps are focused around her own personal life: working at a gadget shop, facing bullies, and experiencing love.
The artist says that this criticism hasn’t fazed her, or stopped her from wanting to grow her reputation as a key player in the world of hip-hop. She says she is “living proof” that women wearing hijabs can make a place for themselves in rap.
Now based in Kuala Lumpur, she wants to go worldwide with her music.
“I’ve realized that there are more hijabis who want to rap. I think that’s a good thing because you shouldn’t worry about what others say.”