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Indonesian singer performing with king cobra dies after being bitten onstage

An Indonesian singer known for performing with live snakes died after being bitten by a king cobra onstage on Monday, April 4. (Video: The Washington Post)

An Indonesian singer known for performing with live snakes has died after being bitten by a king cobra onstage.

Irma Bule, 29, is not a household name in the English-speaking world. But in Indonesia, she is known as a singer of dangdut, a pop fusion of folk, South Asian film music, and rock and roll that rose to prominence in the 1980s.

“With its nasal, melismatic vocal style and propulsive hand drum rhythms, dangdut is in many ways a music of the Islamic world,” Jeremy Wallach wrote in “Sonic Modernities in the Malay World,” though “most dangdut songs deal with non-religious, sentimental themes, and the genre is frequently denounced as sinful and morally corrupting by strict Muslims in Indonesia.”

Though once banned by the government, the style is now considered passe — so much so that Bule’s penchant for performing with king cobras (Ophiophagus hannah), reticulated pythons (Python reticulatus) and boa constrictors, as Reptiles Magazine noted, was thought a bit of a “gimmick” that brought a grisly end.

“Dangdut is such an oversaturated musical genre in Indonesia that it’s not surprising how many artists employ gimmicks in their act to stand out from the rest,” Cocunuts Jakarta, one of a network of sites that covers urban areas in Asia, wrote. “Unfortunately, dangdut singer Irma Bule’s deadly gimmick, combined with her dedication to showmanship, led to her untimely death.”

Bule was performing in a village in West Java when she was presented with a king cobra that was supposed to have been defanged. It was not.

“My daughter might not have known that the snake that was given to her for the show was a dangerous cobra,” Bule’s mother, Encum, told an Indonesian outlet quoted by the Daily Mail. (Indonesians sometimes do not have surnames.) “She was told she could wear it, even though its mouth was not closed with duct tape.”

This information proved tragically wrong.

“In the middle of the second song, Irma stepped on the snake’s tail,” Ferlando Octavion Auzura, who witnessed the attack, told an Indonesian news outlet. “The snake then bit Irma in her thigh.”

Cocunuts Jakarta posted a video that purportedly documented the attack:

A bite from a king cobra is, to say the least, very serious. The snakes can grow up to 18 feet long and, as their name implies, are a force to be reckoned with.

“It seems unfairly menacing that a snake that can literally ‘stand up’ and look a full-grown person in the eye would also be among the most venomous on the planet, but that describes the famous king cobra,” according to National Geographic. “… When confronted, they can raise up to one-third of their bodies straight off the ground and still move forward to attack. They will also flare out their iconic hoods and emit a bone-chilling hiss that sounds almost like a growling dog.”

The king cobra’s venom is also powerfully deadly.

“Their venom is not the most potent among venomous snakes, but the amount of neurotoxin they can deliver in a single bite — up to two-tenths of a fluid ounce — is enough to kill 20 people, or even an elephant,” National Geographic wrote. “Fortunately, king cobras are shy and will avoid humans whenever possible, but they are fiercely aggressive when cornered.”

This proved true in Bule’s case. Though a snake handler with a venom antidote was on hand, the singer continued to perform for 45 minutes before collapsing.

“The effects were felt 45 minutes after the bite,” Ferlando Octavion Auzura. “She vomited, had seizures, and her body seized.”

Bule was transported to a hospital, where she was pronounced dead on arrival. She is survived by her husband and three young children, US Weekly reported, writing that police confirmed the singer’s death. Her death is under investigation by police.

‘I and her family are still trying to find out exactly what went wrong for our youngest child to die like this,” the singer’s mother said, as the Daily Mail noted. “We are waiting for the organizers of the show to tell us.”