A Rock n Roll star at a Writers Festivalby Sarita Newson

A Rock ‘n’ Roll star at a Writers’ Festival
by Sarita Newson

Gede Robi Supriyanto (Robi Navicula) is a Balinese rock musician, activist, writer, farmer, director of Akarumput.com, and a certified permaculture designer who teaches organic farming around Indonesia.

Robi is the vocalist, guitarist, and founder of popular Indie rock band Navicula combining his activism and music as tools for social change. Since 1996 in Bali, they have released seven albums and won awards internationally, toured Canada, the United States and Australia. They collaborate with organisations such as Greenpeace, Indonesia Corruption Watch (ICW), Lembaga Ilmu Pengetahuan Indonesia (LIPI), Wahana Lingkungan Hidup Indonesia (Walhi), and the farmers union Serikat Petani Indonesia (SPI).

At Ubud Writers & Readers Festival 2014, Robi participated with two other activists in a panel titled A Creative Change. As global warming, deforestation, unchecked development beset Indonesia; many battle to bring environmental issues into the spotlight. Some hold rallies; others organise fundraisers; Robi and his band use music to bring focus to the environment, and the issues they expose are complex, reaching deep beneath the fabric of life in Indonesia.

Robi agreed to delve further into the very interesting issues raised during this discussion.

Sarita Newson (SN): Robi, it was wonderful to have you share your work as a songwriter and activist at the last UWRF, and I would like to bring it to our readers at Bali Advertiser. How do you feel about using your creative energy in activism, and your struggle to protect what’s left of the forests in Sumatra and Borneo, the habitat of the Orangutan and the Sumatran Tiger?

Robi Navicula (RN): I strive to raise hope by collaboration, with NGOs, politicians, academics, photographers, filmmakers, musicians and artists. We are now more aware of the impact of forest destruction upon global warming. I use our band merchandise to encourage people to be part of the movement, publicly showing what they care about with what they use.

SN: What do you feel is the key to changing the cyclical domination of the disenfranchised that leads to poverty and poor soils, robbing farmers of their pride and livelihoods?

RN: Often people are too poor to care. They are too busy trying to survive. If we address the issues of poverty, then they rise above survival mode and become able to care about quality of life and the environment.

SN: It seems that you trust a lot in the peaceful art of persuasion? Does popular music empower the younger generation?

RN: I believe governments wield the strongest power for creative change. The problem is that here we hit a strong wall of corruption. If we can deal with this it would allow a significant improvement. From conversations with friends at ICW I hear the KPK (Corruption Eradication Commission) are focusing on corruption in relation to natural resources. Our song on YouTube Mafia Hukum remains a big hit with young and old; Di Rimba and Bubur Kayu expose forest decimation.

Our biggest problem is that people are uninformed, so education is important. Many people suddenly become poor when they get sick; reducing corruption in health services would reduce poverty. Another of our songs, Mafia Medis, addresses this. The needs of many should be provided for, with resources that constitutionally belong to the people – we need a wiser distribution. With all the basic rights of living met, then comes voting power, people learn to question the powers that be and express their concerns. Our music brings the issues into their consciousness.
Forests should be returned to their indigenous tribes – look up what Martin von Hildebrand did in Columbia. Government decisions should be pro-people. The destruction of the forests, the huge fish export and illegal fishing in Indonesia is pro-business not pro-people.

SN: How can we undo generations of unsustainable development – the big businesses stealing from the poor people?

RN: I am not against development, even though it seems to work in parallel with destruction, the damage can be minimised with sustainable design, principles of caring for people, nature and future.

The youth – all people in fact – care more and become more generous when they are in a good economic base. People in Indonesia should live well, as it is a rich country, but many don’t understand how rich they are. They do not appreciate their resources.

For example, West Papua no longer has a good university, and it is very expensive to fly in and out of the island. One of the things President Jokowi wants to do is improve travel, communication, and information between Indonesian islands. In Papua indigenous people struggle to hold natural resources that are being stolen from them; yet those who are uninformed cannot value what they have. Returning the forests to the indigenous people works; their traditional way of life sustains balance with the environment and prevents climate change for all of us. Some don’t realise this, and may think progress more important.

SN: Desperation seems to have found voice in your activism, the music of your band Navicula and Akarumput.com your online media outlet. As a songwriter, and a writer of a blog for the environment, do you feel that your words are reaching out to people? For example your film and song on Orangutan, it shocked a lot of people in the audience.

RN: It’s not desperation, it’s about bringing out the fact that things are “sad but true”. We go on field trips – share what we find, not to traumatise but to awaken, trigger and stimulate urgency that we have to act now. We made the music video Orangutan, to show what is actually happening.

The audience questioned the harsh images of orangutans losing their home. I am teaching at a school (kindergarten, primary and junior high school) and we teach them to appreciate the beauty of nature, making it particularly ‘cool’ for the elder children to be aware and do something about the bad things they see. However, for university students, NGO and government officials it is necessary to show the worst scenario to raise their sense of urgency. We have to find a balance between push and pull, to praise and condemn (constructively criticise). When you are pushing you can encourage people to be creative.

Akarumput is a legal, tax-paying company that organises all of our activities, from film-production to merchandising and event organising, in collaboration with many institutions such as Bumi Sehat who work with health and birthing, listen online to our old song Mother and Child!

SN: A large group of international writers enjoyed your panel at Ubud Writers & Readers Festival last year. Can you tell us of any palpable results that have come out of this connection with local and international writers?

RN: I attended other panels at the festival and found them inspiring. Discussions with many individuals of good intention, experience and ideas are always worthwhile. Not only did I share ideas, I also gained new perspective and benefited from listening. My co-panelists, Made Bayak, who brings awareness to issues of waste through his workshops creating art with rubbish, and Celia Gregory, who does underwater sculpture to regenerate coral, using beauty to move people to action, both inspired me and taught me a lot. I also have a lot of respect for our moderator, Suzy Hutomo, owner of Body Shop Indonesia. We ourselves merchandise non-palm oil soap. Susi’s company use RSPO (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil) in very few of their products—certified palm-oil from trade-aid sources outside Indonesia, to reduce pressure on Indonesian forests, promoting a more sustainable production of the oil.

SN: Do you have any further message for our readers?

RN: Do what you love and love what you do. Good change can happen nowadays through collaboration. The real hero is an ordinary man doing small things with great passion. Disappointment, happiness, sadness; balance can be found in the midst of all those feelings. Anger is a passion, but I don’t shout because I am angry, I shout because it’s Rock ‘n’ Roll.

Ubud Writers & Readers Festival will take place October 28 – November 1, 2015, celebrating 17,000 Islands of Imagination. For more information, head to www.ubudwritersfestival.com