A band perfoms during a skinhead event in Kuala Lumpur on Saturday (AFP Photo/Mohd Rasfan)
Asian "skinheads" converged on Malaysia's capital Kuala Lumpur over the weekend for two days of full-throated live music performances — but with a message far different from that often associated with their Western cousins.
Sporting shaven heads, tattoo-covered torsos and leather boots, the roughly 200 skinheads from Japan, Thailand, and Malaysia gathered to spread their anti-racism, anti-drugs credo.
The event was organized by the Malaysian chapter of SHARP — Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice — a group that first emerged in the United States in the 1980s.
Bob Panjang, one of the SHARP organizers, said it was the first time such a gathering had been held in Muslim-majority Malaysia.
"We are not the Nazi skinhead groups that are racists. We don't promote Malay power in Malaysia," he said, referring to the country's ethnic majority group.
"We promote the spirit of brotherhood. We oppose racism and we have Chinese and Indians in our group."
Religious authorities in Muslim-majority Malaysia on Sunday condemned the event, saying the skinheads' tight, torn jeans and leather jackets project a bad image for youths, despite SHARP's "good message".
However, authorities have so far done nothing to stop the festival, held at a converted shophouse venue called "Fire House", which was plastered with slogans denouncing racism and drug use.
The skinhead movement first emerged among working class youths in Britain in the 1960s as a way to project anti-establishment, anti-hippy sentiment, but avoiding politics and race.
However, the movement's spread overseas was accompanied by a splintering in core values, with neo-Nazi elements becoming notorious for their violence against racial minorities in Europe, sparking a push-back by anti-racist skinhead groups.
Malaysia has tiny communities of relatively tame skinheads, rockers and other Western-inspired subcultures, which are frowned upon by Islamic authorities.
Panjang said SHARP has about 2,000 adherents in Malaysia, including "skinhead girls". The group also opposes sexual violence.
"I joined the skinheads because I am attracted by its brotherhood and the fashionable outfits we wear," he said.
The concerts featured live bands from Japan, Thailand and Malaysia playing music by late Jamaican star Desmond Dekker, an earlier pioneer of reggae and ska, as well as music from the "Oi!" skinhead subculture, and the Skatalites, another early ska trail-blazer. AFP