Photo courtesy of: I Gede Robi Supriyanto
Most musicians formed a band for the sake of money, but that’s not the case for I Gede Robi Supriyanto. Although his Psychedelic-Grunge Unit, Navicula, has been renowned as one of the finest in Indonesia and abroad, Robi uses that as a megaphone to voice his concern about humanity, social condition, and environmental issue instead of a mere ‘cash-cow’ to produce financial income; and he didn’t stop there. Using his innate songwriting talent, noble vision and stalwart voice, Robi continue his effort to make Bali a better place through several sustainability and agriculture- related movements, which he shares exclusively to Hellobali readers in this enlightening interview below.
Navicula has been recognized as one of Indonesia’s finest Grunge units of all time. Did you intentionally choose that genre? Who were the band’s strongest musical influences?
For sure, this was the music that made me want to be in a band. Before grunge, it felt like rock bands were gods and it was all so far away. When Nirvana came on the radio I was in high school, it just made me feel like ‘I can play that’. These are just normal dudes who love music and are playing the way they feel, not playing the way industry wants them to. Probably my biggest influence is The Melvins, The Pixies and Soundgarden.
What is the most memorable moment in your career as a musician / environmental activist so far? have you ever received any form of threats? how did you overcome it (if there’s any)?
One of the most memorable moments was when Navicula performed and filmed a music video on the Greenpeace Rainbow Warrior ship while docked in Bali. The clip we filmed there ended up becoming one of our most powerful videos and has over 2 million views on YouTube, it’s called “Busur Hujan”, busur means bow, and hujan means rain, so literally ‘Rain Bow’. Greenpeace is now the biggest environmental advocacy group in the world, but they started out 50 years ago as a small group of scientist protesting nuclear testing in Alaska. With support from musicians, such as Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell, they had a concert and raised money to purchase their first ship which they named Greenpeace, and the rest is history.
We’ve collaborated with Greenpeace over the years on deforestation and climate change campaigns. When we first approached them, an activist named Jopi Peranginangin was working with Greenpeace on a campaign to raise awareness about deforestation. Navicula went to Kalimantan. It was an amazing experience ‘searching for the rainforest’, as we rode across Kalimantan for 12 days on dirt bikes. All we could see is palm oil plantations, with little strips of forest every few days. It was heartbreaking. Jopi became a dear friend, and we collaborated on concerts in Sulawesi to bring awareness about how palm oil plantations are destroying the rainforest. A few years later he was murdered in Jakarta. This really brought home how dangerous it is to be speaking up for nature. Jopi’s story is not an isolated incident, every week environmental activists are murdered around the world, and for what – just so we can have palm oil in our shampoo and get our electricity from coal fired plants? Navicula’s lyrics never go against the law. In fact, we strongly support the enforcement of the law in Indonesia. We advocate for sustainable development, balanced between what people need and nature can burden. So we can keep it sustainable. Because of this, Navicula doesn’t only work with grassroots movements and NGOs, but can open a dialog and collaborate with government and corporate as well. We don’t just want to point fingers of blame, but to really work together to find solutions to the issues we care about.
Tell us about your time studying under Vandana Shiva. Did it change your fundamental perspective of ‘permaculture’? how would you imply that knowledge in preserving Bali’s nature?
It was such an honor to study with Vandana Shiva in India for 1 month. She taught me that planting seeds can be an act of political defiance. Around the world, and including in Indonesia, our seeds are genetically modified, farming systems are being run by big corporations. We need to take back control of our food, we are losing the rights even to plant our own seeds – did you know most of the seeds on the market are copyrighted by big agriculture? Vandana Shiva says this is the new colonialism, eco-colonialism. As our biodiversity is lost to monoculture farming, we are losing our culture. Balinese culture is all about farming. As we lose are farmlands to villas and hotels, our ceremonies and dances lose their meaning, they become just an empty shell for tourism. Many of the Permaculture principles I learned already exist in our traditional farming methods here in Bali. This knowledge belongs to my grandfather, but it’s being lost. What I would say for Bali is be proud of our agriculture, be proud to be a farmer. Join our political movement, and plant a seed. The best way to preserve our heritage seeds are to plant them in the ground. When you harvest, save some seeds and plant them again. With each harvest we are fighting for our independence. Organic veggies taste better to, it’s the most delicious revolution.
What about your involvement in Pulau Plastik documentary series? Do you think Bali can move further in this non-plastic movement, since now the local government has commenced the law that regulates the usage of non-degradable plastic?
I started Pulau Plastik in partnership with Kopernik & Akarumput last year. It was just a small video campaign to raise awareness about plastic reduction. But when we started researching the story, there was so many layers to this problem of plastics, and this turned into something much more in depth, exploring the impacts on the environment, our health and the politics behind it all. We are really excited that one of Indonesia’s biggest top film companies, Visinema pictures, has come on board and we are now expanding Pulau Plastik into a feature length film which will release in cinemas next year.
What the Balinese government has done is a huge first step for Indonesia, and I think it can be an example to other provinces in Indonesia. But implementation of the ban is not strong enough, and socializing a need for reduction of plastic, not just waste management, has a long way to go. We need government, corporations and community to work together and make some major cultural changes. The first step is reducing our dependence on single-use plastics. Only after that, then we talk about ‘reuse’ and ‘recycle’.
Did you think this environmental issue will just become a temporary trend? Please share some practical tips to preserve the environment for our readers…
Just the opposite, I think the environmental issues we face now will become an urgent crisis in my lifetime. Environmental destruction and climate change is the biggest threat to our life on this planet. Yet, my government spends less than 1% of the national budget on environmental protection, and Indonesia ranks highest in the world for climate change deniers, even though we are the 3rd biggest contributor to climate change emissions when you include deforestation. The story isn’t far off for most countries, even first world countries. The first thing individuals can do is to Reduce on a personal level, consume less. Then, stay informed and get involved. Individual change will not be enough to get us out of this one. It’s bigger than that; big corporations and government try to frame environmental degradation as a consumer problem, which is a just distractions, we should hold them accountable.
Which aspect of Balinese culture that fascinates you the most?
The essence of Balinese culture is agriculture. Environmentally sustainable agriculture. I’m proud of being Balinese, and want to preserve this culture. If we truly want to preserve the culture, we have to start with the essence, preserve the agriculture. Then after this one, we can go to the ethic base, the interaction between human and nature. Then, the skin, what most people thinking about Balinese culture, such as rituals, language, art, it’s become stronger if we understand the essence. For fringe culture –– We also have a great indie music scene here. Come to a festival in Denpasar to get a taste, or just check out Navicula’s Spotify account 🙂
“but implementation of the ban is not strong enough, and socializing a need for reduction of plastic, not just waste management, has a long way to go. We need government, corporations and community to work ogether and make some major cultural changes”
Have you ever think of going into legislative level (becoming a politician) to push your environmental awareness agenda further?
Elaborate a bit about your answer I would love to, but I don’t have the patience to sit around in meetings, hahaha. Indonesia has a hard time enforcing national level regulations, but village scale traditional laws can happen overnight with the right Village Head socializing new ideas to the entire community. The banjar Nyuh Kuning (village) where I live in Ubud is very progressive. They’ve implemented traditional laws, called Awig- awig, which enforce that all residents must pay for trash pick- up and there are strong village fines for burning trash. The village next to us, Padang Tegal, has village wide regulation that every household waste must be separated and all the organic waste is composted in the village. I think in Bali the official regulation can work stronger in synergy with the traditional local wisdom. I like to collaborate and mapping all of this potential, it’s one of the things we are researching as part of the Pulau Plastik campaign for single use plastic reduction. Maybe I’m more interested in anthropology than politics.
If you can change one thing in the world right now, what would that be (and why)?
Let women take over leadership of the world. The powers of the world are driven by power and greed. I don’t think women in power would solve all of our problems, but I would trust them to make more holistic decisions than our current leaders. My biggest inspirations in the social movement are by women like Vandana Shiva, Ibu Robin Lim and Anita Roddick. Yes, women on top!