Repost from: http://fitriariantis.wordpress.com
I had the opportunity to watch and hang out with one of the coolest Indonesian bands out there, Navicula. (But then again I don’t know that much about Indonesian music so my opinions might be completely out of context.) They are a Balinese rock band with a big heart, creating songs with a theme of environmental justice. It really is their activism that got me turning my head.
I don’t listen to Indonesian music because there’s a lot (not all) of cheesy, shallow, band wagon-type bands and artists out there. Most of their music also just talks about love and breaking up, which is fine but obviously if that’s all there is that makes for such a bland landscape. They sound the same to me. So when I first heard of them, I was like “okay an Indonesian rock band… great.” I don’t know of that many Indonesian rock bands but hey, they’ll probably rock to love songs and act shallow too – or at least that’s what I thought.
I’m part of the nonprofit that is hosting one of their gigs in SF. But I first met them at 924 Gilman, in Berkeley (the day before the gig we were hosting). I was introduced to them by my friend’s friend. They didn’t say much and maybe that’s partly because of the loud music blaring in our ears. Me and my best friend connected to one of the band members and briefly talked. I didn’t have any strong impression of them honestly. But that’s actually interesting because usually whenever I meet anyone who’s sort of famous, they usually give off a vibe that begs for attention, something that he/she/they are obviously used to. But not with them. I didn’t get any impression. They were quite and, like I said, they didn’t say much. So that’s already something different about them. Maybe they were tired? Who knows what they were going through that day or the past few days.
So then I watched them perform at 11pm (we were there since 8ish and had to listen to two less-than-stellar bands). I was pleasantly surprised! They were really good, they were fucking awesome. And again, this is coming from someone who doesn’t listen to rock music. I loved their musicality, the lyrics, the message they’re bringing and they just rock. They had songs about orangutan, a late activist, and polluted city. I love that! You can tell that they were passionate about what they were doing. I even felt bad because some people left already and missed out to witness how amazing they were. But those that stayed were really enjoying the music, especially in contrast with the band before (sorry to say). I was actually upset when they’re set ended. It felt too soon. Probably because this is the first time I’m hearing they’re music and it was so good I didn’t want it to stop. I want to know more, hear more. Suddenly I was really excited that I’ll be able to watch them AGAIN the next day!
So after that we told them how much awesome it was and talked to their manager. Now that we know how great they are and their music, we didn’t hesitate to help promote them. We invited them to come to this community event the next day before their gig. They’ll be able to do a little announcement or hand fliers or both. I was all of a sudden trying really hard to support them. I tweeted, path-ed and my best friend facebook-ed the gig and announced their next one.
Oh and we learned that they won a video competition and prized with recording at a legendary studio where Jimi Hendrix, Mick Jagger and the like were produced. Uhm.. WHAT?! Crazy right? And they were touring the US on their own budget so they were selling merchandise like tshirts and soap. Robi, the lead vocalist, also announced when they were performing that it would help pay for gas money and food. It’s such a humble thing and such a great cause, at least in my opinion.
It’s such a great story. Activist rock band winning an amazing competition and touring on a budget, spreading an important global environmental message. Just wow.
After Navicula’s first show (read about that here), I had time to think more about how significant they are and it really made me think about why I was so excited and impressed. I don’t get impressed easily, especially not by Indonesian bands. There are two contexts that I’d like to position them that will get at why they are so special to me.
The first, and most personal connection I have with them, is in the context of environmental activism. I’ve been interning at an environmental nonprofit for three months now and we are specifically targeting Indonesia as ground zero for deforestation globally. And I’ve been helping with our agribusiness campaign which focuses on palm oil as one of the key driving forces for rainforest destruction.
I didn’t mention this yet but they collaborated with Greenpeace Indonesia and toured Borneo on motor bikes to not only do a music tour but also document the rainforest destruction there due to palm oil expansion. They screened a video of it before their second gig and it was such a moving thing to watch. It had shots of the, what seemed like, never ending landscapes of palm oil plantations. They also talked to indigenous communities and allowed them to tell their stories. All of this captured in video, it was amazing. Watch the trailer here.
I mean I’ve heard people tell me moving stories of what they witnessed and experienced when they visit places like Kalimantan, where palm oil expansion is happening, but I can only imagine what it felt. I can never visualize and capture that same feeling. The video they screened was able to do that! It was able to put faces to the names I often hear and put visuals to the words. Even though I’ve lived in Indonesia for over 6 years, I’ve never been anywhere outside Java (except Bali for a family vacation) let alone speak to indigenous communities in Borneo. I’m so thankful to Navicula for sharing that.
The second is in the context of Indonesian popular culture. It’s already awesome that these musicians are environmental activists, but the fact that they’re a grunge rock band? That’s so precious. If forests and oceans could record in a studio and produce music, I would imagine it being something slow, swaying and rejuvinating. I would never imagine it with an electric guitar let alone a grunge/rock sound. Yet Navicula’s sound somewhat magically captures the message with such a raw quality, urgency and flames a fire within you that many probably aren’t aware existed in them – about the environment. They channel all their energy and emotion from their activism into their rock music, a form that can be spread and shared to the popular masses. And that’s really what they’re about, they’re like a “satellite”.
After talking to Dankie, the lead guitarist, it was apparent that they’ve been involved in environmental activism, in one way or the other, since the 90s. That means this isn’t something that they just started caring about for the past year or so, but for decades! I see so many celebrities/musicians now that just take up a “cause” as a publicity stunt, etc. and it’s horse shit. Knowing that Navicula has been true to the cause makes me respect them so much more.
I feel like this could be a big break for Navicula and Indonesia’s forests. With this whole “hipster” thing going on (as misguided as it is), caring about the environment all of a sudden became cool. And it’s catching on in Indonesia. It’s slow and people are still just taking on the look without the action that is associated with it (that’s also true here too actually), but let’s hope that’ll come soon. When it does, I think Navicula, who is at the intersection of rock band (already something cool) and environmental activism (something that hopefully will be full blown cool soon), will rise to the top as a pop icon that’s fiercely real.