It’s rare to see a woman shred guitar at warp speed and even rarer to see one clad in a burqa while at it. One such lady recently made headlines as a video of her playing an electric guitar went viral. The face behind the veil is that of Muslim convert Gisele Marie Rocha, a Brazilian musician who lives in São Paulo and plays in her brother’s band Spectrus. The Express Tribune covers the waterfront on Gisele’s music, conversion to Islam and a potential Pakistan tour.
“I come from a family that has always had a strong connection with culture, especially music. I began studying music since I was eight, starting with the classical piano” she says. Gisele, whose musical inspirations include Randy Rhoads, Jimi Hendrix, Lucia Jaco, Yngwie Malmsteen, Zakk Wylde and Jeff Beck, has been covered by global publications for the paradox between her appearance and career in music. She’s currently working on forming a new thrash metal band that she’ll launch next year.
Having already received numerous messages from Pakistan, she says she’d be honoured and happy to play in Pakistan with her new band. “I admire Pakistani culture with all its colours and varied fabrics. My band is working hard towards our world tour in 2016 and we’d love to play in Pakistan and get to know the people of the country.”
Granddaughter of German Catholics, she converted to Islam months after her father passed away in 2009. She was always acquainted with the religion as her late father admired the scientists and scholars who emerged during the era of Islamic expansion. “My father was a very wise and intelligent man and even though he was neither Muslim nor Arabic, I had my first contact with Islam through him. Then in 2009, I decided to read the Quran when I found it on the internet. It changed my life and brought me to Islam,” she shares.
She only wore hijab initially and that it was by accident that she started using niqab to cover her face. “It all started when I offered to help a friend overcome her fear of wearing the niqab in public by wearing it myself to accompany her. It felt good to don it so I started reading about it. Today, I wear it with respect and serious determination,” she states.
But wearing niqab in Brazil, a country with a nominal percentage of Muslims, required Gisele to gather courage to swim against the tide. “With only a handful of Muslims in my city [São Paulo], wearing the burqa in public required extreme courage and an unbending spirit,” she admits. She received mixed responses from people in public, most of them being positive. As for the negative comments, she lets them slide. “People consider me as an exotic touristic attraction. They want to talk to me and take pictures with me, thinking I’m an Arab woman.”
Gisele says that most Brazilian’s associate the burqa with the Middle East and see it as a sign of oppression — as something that’s imposed. “My Muslim friends and I are trying to combat this stereotype. I’m a great believer of individuality and wearing the niqab is a personal choice. I’d never impose it on anyone else. One should be free to wear what they want to,” she notes.
The musician aspires to fight against oppression of women through her music. “This has spread around the world like an epidemic. It doesn’t differentiate between religion, ethnicity or region. There’s a need to fight for women’s rights. We need to have rights over our own bodies and how we choose to live our lives.”
Published in The Express Tribune, October 4th, 2015.