IN ONE OF THE MOST BEAUTIFUL PLACES ON EARTH, ONE BAND RAISES HELL TO PROTECT THEIR HOME
Check out Navicula live at the Twice Bar at this link
(video produced by Niall Macaulay) :
Words by Maria Bakkalapulo (Twitter @mbakkalapulo)
It’s a sensual, balmy night in Kuta, the nexus of Bali’s surfer zone, and it is looking like a spring break party here. School is out in Australia and young, tan party-goers are flocking to Kuta, swigging back beers and haphazardly riding motorbikes down Kuta’s alleyways dodging pedestrians and souvenir vendors. Passing along one of these narrow streets surrounded by DVD shops and convenience stores, suddenly the street is filled with mostly young Balinese outside the legendary underground music venue, the Twice Bar. Opened in 1999 by Jerinx, drummer for Bali’s successful punk rock band Superman is Dead, tonight it plays host to another one of the island’s most talented bands, Navicula – their sweat-drenched fans pack the venue and sing along to every one of their songs.
“A young orangutan, his home is in the wild,” lead singer Robi shouts into the microphone. “It was cared for by papa and mama only yesterday.“ Imitating the orangutan’s cries, he looks wide-eyed at the audience and sings “… but now they are gone.” Bali’s Navicula are determined to save Indonesia’s delicate ecosystem, and rock music gets their message out. In the free download song “Orangutan,” the great ape is a symbol. “Not only will the orangutan be lost, but all of the local knowledge, the flora and fauna of our rainforest will disappear also.” says Robi.
In September of last year with the help of crowd funding and other donations, Navicula toured the dwindling jungles of Kalimantan with Greenpeace to raise awareness about the devastating impact of deforestation. “We rode across Kalimantan for twelve days on motorbikes, in tiger costumes. 2500 kilometers in total with concerts at every stop we made,” says Robi.
Though they travel widely around the country, Bali is the band’s home. With sweeping beaches, epic volcanic vistas, breathtaking rice terraces and mystical Hindu ceremonies, Bali has become synonymous with the idea of “paradise.” The downside of its popularity is the onslaught of overdevelopment with the noise of the hammer often drowning out the sound of the ocean surf. Navicula aren’t keeping quiet about this problem. “We protest to keep this beautiful space,” says Robi. Their grungy melodic rock songs are hard-hitting, demanding action. “We are proactive and music is a powerful magnet for gathering people,” says Robi.
Navicula takes full advantage of this by pushing the boat out even further, joining musicians from around the country to write anti-corruption songs for an album put out by the anti-graft watchdog Indonesian Corruption Watch (ICW). In their song “Law Mafia,” featured on the ICW compilation,” the message is clear: “Corruption, corruption; It gets worse day by day; You can get away with anything; As long as you can pay.” By some estimates, in the next 20 years, Indonesia is expected to be one of the top ten largest economies in the world. Unfortunately, corruption is so rampant here that it is impossible to avoid, whether your a villager or a government official. According to anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International, perceptions of corruption in Indonesia are worsening. It’s no wonder that Navicula’s young fans, undoubtedly living daily with corruption themselves.
The most important issue, though, continues to be the environment in a country depleting its natural resources at an alarming rate. Navicula didn’t jump on the environmental bandwagon just to be cool, they’ve always sung about it since they formed back in 1996. Their name is a clue to their early genesis. “The name Navicula came from a biology book. It is a name for a microorganism,” explains Robi. “It is a Latin word for “small ship,” also for a golden algae, a plankton.” They stumbled on the name by accident. “I was looking for a picture of a woman’s anatomy in my school book,” laughs Robi. “It was accident, but the name stuck, then we made a band to get real woman.” The band includes four members, all with the band for at least twelve years, including: Dankie on guitar, Made on bass and Gembul on drums. “The biggest obstacle was to actually attract the youth here in Indonesia,” says Rudolf Dethu, their former manager and veteran music writer. “They don’t sing about sex, drugs and rock, they are hippies. It has been very up and down for the band. Finally they understand Indonesians are getting the eco-friendly issues and all of a sudden, Navicula is back on top again.”
Their recognition beyond Bali has widened, with a trip stateside for a mini concert tour of California. Being Røde Rockers competition prizewinners last year meant that the Australian microphone manufacturer Røde paid all expenses to record their upcoming album at the Record Plant Recording Studio in Hollywood. Navicula was also recently named Rolling Stone Indonesia’s Rock Ambassadors for their aggressive efforts to challenge the system, and visitors to their Balinese home have included Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine and others.
Back in Ubud, Robi tends to his small vegetable plot, walking distance from his home. As biting ants infest our sandals, he grins – he doesn’t use pesticides when growing the vegetables for himself and extended family. He comes from farming stock. He picks through a handful of seeds and looks up “we are lucky that the beauty in the culture and the environment is still in here, but the trap is how fast we can lose it.” As one of the most popular bands in the fastest growing market in South East Asia, they continue to highlight challenges facing Indonesia today, promoting human rights, and contributing their music to the fight against corruption and environmental destruction. Like Lennon, Marley and Springsteen, Navicula can turn out some great melodies, and proudly carry the torch for politics belonging in music, in a country sorely in need of logical leadership.