Coconuts Exclusive: ‘Rebel with a Cause’ Robi Navicula opens up about the biggest disaster facing Bali today

Arguably the most contentious topic facing Bali over the coming months will be the planned development of Benoa Bay. The project calls for a number of islands to be ‘reclaimed’ from 700 plus hectares of the shallow bay, to be populated with resorts, villas, and entertainment facilities. 

Behind the proposed reclamation is a a group of investors headed up by Indonesian business mogul Tomy Winata and his property development unit Tirta Wahana Bali International (TWBI), that claims the new islands would relieve stress on macet-filled southern Bali. 

Former Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono pulled the land from protective zoning with Presidential Regulation No. 51/2014, shortly before he left office and all eyes have been on his successor, President Joko Widodo to see if he’ll let TWBI move forward or re-grant the land its previous conservation area status. 

Since its announcement, the reclamation plan has been rejected by a group calling themselves ForBali. Made up of artists, musicians, lawyers, and others inclined towards activism, ForBali has adopted the motto Tolak Reklamasi (or Halt Reclamation) and has blanketed the island with now-iconic posters and billboards. 

One of ForBali’s leading members is Gede Robi Supriyanto. Better known as Robi Navicula, he’s a self-proclaimed ‘rebel with a cause,’ a founding member and lead vocalist of psychedelic-grunge band Navicula, and certified permaculture designer. He is also just a really nice guy.

Other than a slow but steady stream of protests held in Bali, there hasn’t been much news on the stalemated project with Jokowi remaining tight-lipped on the issue since taking office. But we were reminded how touchy of a subject it is back in October, when authorities coerced the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival to pull programming on the reclamation that included ForBali’s leader, Wayan Suardana (Gendo) on its panel. 

Wondering where exactly the project and the protest movement against it is headed, we sat down with Robi, who had just returned from playing in Italy and India on the balcony at Kumpul Coworking overlooking Rumah Sanur, where, a couple nights earlier, an evening of music had raised money for the cause.

When did you first become aware of what was going to happen in Benoa Bay and how did you get involved with ForBali?

So it actually happened before ForBali was formed. I first heard about it from Gendo because I’m a good friend of his. I’m involved in a band, Navicula, and the topics (we sing about) are mostly environmental. And also, outside the band, I’m personally interested in staying up to date about environmental [issues]. So once Gendo brought this up: ‘Hey I heard about this plan, blah, blah, blah’. I said ‘Ok this is good information’ but I try to stay neutral myself until I heard the details. So I went to the Bali government public relations website and they mention the plan with the plan’s three visions; one, to make new islands that act as a barrier for tsunamis; two, to help the tourism industry by creating jobs and building new facilities; and third, to help keep open space and filter the air and water. 

If we just see this, it’s utopia. It’s good intention but to me it doesn’t make sense. I worked for five years in disaster management… and it’s impossible. Who’s the angel to spend billions to build a barrier for a tsunami? If a tsunami happens you go to the mountains [Laughs]. So that’s nonsense. 

An artist’s rendering of the TWBI “vision” for Benoa Bay. Photo: TWBI

Second, to save the tourist industry. This also doesn’t make sense for me because in 2009 there’s already a moratorium from our government to stop the development of accommodation in southern Bali because there was already a surplus of rooms. There was supposedly a surplus of 9,800 rooms and so it’s supply and demand. If you build more the price of will drop so economically it doesn’t make sense. Also the concept of Bali is about nature and culture. So if you want to help to keep this concept alive you must try and preserve the nature and culture, not build more infrastructure like hotels and restaurants of which there was already a surplus. So this is actually against the will of the government. 

Third, the open space, which can filter water and air. Naturally, the area is already a conservation area. It has mangrove. It has coral. So if you really want to clear the water and air why not make more coral reef and mangrove? Why do you need to build more land that won’t create a new ecosystem for decades? So none of their reasons make sense. So this group, these individuals who had the same opinion as me we had a lot of discussions about what we wanted to do. So I was at the first meeting of ForBali and we said ‘What are we gonna do?’ ‘Ok, let’s make a group so that we can coordinate. “Do it yourself is dead.”’ And the puzzle came together, graphic artists, NGO workers, politicians, lawyers so that we could be a solid team.  And it’s been two years and the campaign is still going on.


What is at stake ecologically in Benoa?

I’ll use the simplest analogy because I’m not an expert. It’s like a full glass with water and then you fill it with stones. The water is going to overflow. We know that area (Benoa) is the mouth of four rivers so when the rainy season comes, where is the water going to go? 

We learned from the reclamation at Serangan (an island just to the east of Benoa harbor that was reclaimed). We saw the significant damage from that project. What we need is more conservation areas and, before, when we first heard the plan of this development and started fighting it, this area was already a conservation area and then the President changed it. So this is why we feel like we’re doing the right thing, a kind thing because it’s in our hearts. You don’t need to be a genius to see the conspiracy behind the change.


Music seems to be key to the Tolak Reklamasi movement. Why do you think that is? 

Because ForBali is a multidisciplinary movement. If only NGOs or bureaucrats are doing it, it would seem so formal and wouldn’t touch a wider audience. They couldn’t feel a sense of belonging. But music is a really liquid media, powerful but also very fluid and it’s easier to gain attention and a sense of belonging because we’re doing it in the name of the citizen in the name of the people and art is really the language of the people, especially in Bali and Indonesian culture.

We’re doing a small part but if we collaborate, it becomes a big part. And if we see history, music can be a big part of [social] movements. [Sheepishly] John Lennon and the anti-Vietnam war, flower generation and Greenpeace’s first money came from a Joni Mitchell concert. So we’re just passing [along] this spirit. 

We live in a skeptical era. It’s easy to be skeptical and think it ‘Oh this is too difficult to change’ but if we’re skeptical like that we will just do nothing and just sleep at home. It’s important to have hope and our hope is in the collaboration. 



A photo posted by Robi Navicula (@robinavicula) on



So another thing that we’ve noticed about the movement is that it’s primarily made up of young guys. Why is that?

That’s interesting. We’re trying to make this movement cross-gender, cross-community. But the group that’s been the most militant so far comes from underground rock music. And we don’t mind that because who has time, who has energy nowadays, it’s the youth. Youth are the agents of change so if you want to have a movement targeting the youth is really effective.



A photo posted by Robi Navicula (@robinavicula) on


Navicula members join a ‘Tolak Reklamasi’ demo in Denpasar

So where is the movement right now and what is the current situation with Benoa?

So once the President changed Benoa from a conservation area they haven’t looked like changing it so we’re still pressuring the government to do that. Even with Jokowi there haven’t been any signs that he’s willing to change the decision. But history will record it whether we win or lose people will see who was on what side.


Did you have hope that Jokowi would revert Benoa to a conservation area?

Honestly, my character is very skeptical. We only had two options, A or B. So maybe he was better at the time, I don’t know. Maybe for people like us who are in opposition, choosing your president is more like choosing your enemy [laughs]. Because people like us are the watchmen, we’re looking for someone who can be democratic and listen. We want people who can use negotiation and brains not just guns. 

We keep pushing Jokowi, because we do believe he is a good man. Even if he’s trapped in bureaucracy and the old dinosaur system but actually he’s a good man and there are some good people we know in the new cabinet. So we still have hope. You know politics, there is no forever enemy in politics, but he’s a good man and good people surround him. And bad people as well [laughs]…


So what have the biggest difficulties been? Like you said, there hasn’t really been any news or progress in more than six months. Has it been hard to keep people engaged? Has there been a drop in enthusiasm? 

Of course we have some worry about the energy because it’s been so long. Like in Sun Tzu’s Art of War, if the war is too long the army will break down and it has been two years. But the core group is still patient, still spend their time, lots of time and energy and I really respect and am proud of ForBali because this isn’t for money. This is purely for our homeland and a good cause, not just right or wrong because right or wrong is based on norms that can be manipulated.


Where do you see the movement going in the next six months or so? How do you see it changing if things start to go against ForBali?

The most powerful force is the local village where the reclamation will happen, the villages around Benoa. And because this is reclamation, they will have to take sand from some other place. I heard they’ll take it from Lombok. So it will cause damage there as well. 800 hectares, you can imagine how big this island [would be] so taking that sand will cause natural destruction there as well. When they built Singapore, an island in Sumatra disappeared. So the area that will be damaged need to resist as well. So if these groups that are being hurt can consolidate.


Thank you again for sitting down Robi, is there anything else you’d like to touch on? Anything about your music?

I’m not an expert or a technical guy. I just want to do my part. I’m a musician so I can use my music or my videos because I also own a small production house whatever I can contribute. Like Mother Theresa said, “In this world we cannot do big things but small things with big passion.” So yeah, that’s what we’re doing.



A photo posted by Robi Navicula (@robinavicula) on



Support local news and join a community of like-minded
“Coconauts” across Southeast Asia and Hong Kong.

Join Now
Coconuts TV
Our latest and greatest original videos
Subscribe on