Nova Ruth is a deeply beautiful soul. She one in a couple hundred million…..literally. Rapper, singer, musician, and activist all embodied in her 5’3 frame from Malang, Java in Indonesia. We e-met back in April after I found her myspace page. I was really feeling her music and sent her a message on facebook complimenting her on it. From there, we stayed in touch. I told her I would love to bring her to Bali to perform at a monthly event that I was doing, that focused on substance based artists. Though I have yet to do that event since returning to Bali, I was blessed to be able to work with the Ubud Readers and Writers Festival this year to create and organize the Hiphop IS Harmony Concert in Bali and…*cough*… tour in Surabaya, Jogja and Jakarta. When I was okay’d to bring an Indonesian artist from Java to participate, Nova Ruth was my first choice. We would meet a month prior, at the Ilmu Hiphop Festival in Jogja, which she performed and did workshops and we had a great time hanging out discussing life, hiphop and food. She is an intelligent and caring being who just happens to be a dope rapper. In a time of much conformity and in a place where status quo dominates, Nova is woman who is unafraid to speak her mind and use her talents in the service of positive change, in Indonesia and the world. Meet Nova Ruth…
TKC: Tell us how you began rapping and performing?
Nova: In the year of 2000, November, i began to seriously write lyrics and chose hiphop music. I’ve been learning how to sing since i was 5, since I was living Christian culture with my priest grandpa. He’s really punctual in notes. I was born Christian and converted to Islam when I was in elementary school. I forget precisely when, but around 8 or 9 years old.
TKC: Being from Malang, how did you choose Hiphop music? What drew you to it? Is there are big scene there?
Nova: Starting from an introduction with Malang Hiphop Community, my bestfriend Indri, half of TwinSista made me hang out with them and I get to know Lauryn Hill (music) better, he he. We did cover songs first, but then me and Indri decided to go to a competition in Jakarta in November 2000, that’s how TwinSista begin. We’re from a small city, but we have a will to grow bigger. Now, the scene are not as big as when I started hiphop music, but there are still a few people i know here doing hiphop music.
TKC: What is the content of the music that you create? What is your intention when you are creating? To whom are you speaking to?
Nova: I am open to any kind of music genre that is why hiphop is good for me. Because it’s always possible to combine hiphop to any kind of genre. From the ethnic to the most modern one. I think hiphop is more friendly with genres. So it depends, sometimes a music producer will show me some good music, then i will know immediately what I will write over that and sometimes it’s the opposite. My intention is simply to tell people about how I feel and how I see the world. I speak to myself first then to public, because I believe every human has the same feeling about the truth, it’s just that some people choose to deny it. So if I know my words will hurt me, then it’ll hurt other people too. If I know my words is my tool to reflect to myself, then it’s relevant to speak it to people.
TKC: What is the focus of your activism? Who are you working with?
Nova: My activism is simple, it’s about honesty. I support any activism that honest. On a larger scale, I’m working with EngageMedia for speaking the truth through video about environmental and social justice issues across Asia-Pacific. Though I will stop working directly with them this December, i’ll be supporting their activism. I like technology as activism tool, it’s powerful. Music is also activism. Right now i’m working a lot with Grey Filastine because he’s also both musician and activist. I’ve been doing critiques to war and environment over his anti-capitalism music critique, that also feels honest to me. I’m also open to work on music with many artists, as long as I fit with their personality and attitude, it’ll be easy for me to work with. I’ve been having good time working with Sven Simulacrum, Unkle Ho and Pataphysic from Australia. They are all activists in their own way. On a smaller scale but a most important one, my activism of honesty also happens in the family. I’m living in an open-minded family that i consider as a luck. From very small thing such within family, that people often forget, being honest can reflect what you’ll do for the mother earth in general.
TKC: Is there a strong arts and activism scene in Indonesia? What about Indonesian Hiphop and activism?
Nova: I don’t see that much appearing on the surface, aside from Homicide (Bandung). It should be here, but it’s always underground. There are few people I know that knows about what are they talking about in their lyrics, but more than few of hiphop artists are entertainment only. But to me is not a wrong thing, everyone has role in their life. Entertain people are also important, people just have to make a choice of what role they would take. I never thought so hard about who is doing what. At least I know what I’m doing and from that, these 10 years, I slowly found who are they and doing what and start to make connection. I think that’s how it should work. Natural and organic activism and networking is more important than being always provocative and trying to gather people who has the same perspective with me in a pushy way.
TKC: Do you think there is a way for mainstream entertainment and underground or grassroots activism to merge?
Nova: I think creating good music is always important. Having a nice frequency and not get people annoyed by what you’ve shouted out. Getting yourself to a nice frequency is both entertaining and communicating and a poetic message plus good music IS entertaining. Why being all the time in the underground if your message not getting up on the surface? But then we again realize that it’s not us (underground people) that never try to get our message out there, it is the BIG industry that always getting in our way of making it happen. I guess all underground people understand why ‘they’ called us underground. I’ve played in grassroots festivals and I’ve played in BIG festivals too, I spread the same messages. Because I always do it with my heart, at the end i know, that my activism and music has been merged since the first time I started it. There is a way, just be more conceptual to the performance that you going to bring.
TKC: What goals are you working towards right now?
Nova: I just do what’s the best today. I don’t have specific goals at the moment, but I’m hoping to finish 3rd Filastine’s album next and starting to think of my own project. Nothing really set yet for me, but I keep on searching for some inspiration. Once my job with EngageMedia has done, I would think clearer for my music. That’s what i hope.
TKC: Tell us something about you that nobody knows.
Nova: If I tell you, then everyone will know, ha ha….but, really….I have nothing to hide. Why should I?
TKC: You don’t need to tell us a secret, just something that most people don’t know about you. Maybe you like to do 10 pushups before you leave the house everyday or you cry easily in movies or your a sucker for a guy who reads you poetry…..It’s up to you.
Nova: Ahahaha.. ok.. I’m whispering a prayer in Arabic words every time I get out of house or start a day wherever I stay, because it makes me remember little things i always forget to bring. here: http://orido.wordpress.com/2007/04/23/doa-keluar-rumah/
TKC: What are you listening to right now?
Nova: Erykah Badu, Gonja Sufi, Hermitude, Filastine, old dangdut, old indonesian Jazz, Lauryn Hill and many many folk songs from Music of the Intifada from Palestine, gamelan, old acapella American gospel songs. but exactly right now, is the old dangdut.
TKC: Name 3 of your favorite albums?
Nova: The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, Pantun Berjudi by A. Rafiq, Dirty Bomb by Filastine
TKC: What are you reading?
Nova: Whatever has letters….and sometimes pictures make it better. I like learning how to read non roman letters too, like Arabic and Javanese letters. The more beautiful the shape, the more interesting.
TKC: Recommend 3 books.
Nova: The Stranger by Albert Camus. The entire series of Asterix. Serat Centhini is a book that tells about a Javanese maid who can speak three languages. Her story was censored by the government and was considered taboo for Javanese history because it was really blunt and honest. So they threw it away and French people saved it. I don’t know if it’s already translated in English yet, but this must be inspiring for any story teller in the world.
TKC: Name 3 people whom inspire you?
Nova: Sutinah, my grandma (from my mom). She was a Bugis moslem but could understand the Javanese philosophy and spoke the high Javanese better than any Javanese i know. She was a radio announcer and a master of ceremonies for Javanese weddings, a leader of her kind. Moestopo, my grandpa (from dad). He was a Javanese Christian priest. He built a church but then moslem extremist burned it down. He was the person with patience and his kindness was unbeatable. Lastly, the one and only Lauryn Hill. She’s important in music aspect. Let’s say, she successfully educated me with her extraordinary album of her miseducation.
TKC:What’s your favorite relaxation activity?
Nova: Satire jokes from my best friends over good cafe latte and sweet tiramizu… and going there (to the cafe) by bike in nice weather. I’ll have a really good sleep after that.
TKC: Anything else you would like to say?
Nova: Yes. So many thanks to whomever will read this. Keep on doing positive things and spread good vibes. I’ll see you on stage, that’s the place i can say many things. That’s why I love hiphop.
For more info on Nova Ruth: http://www.novaruth.com/
(I’ll upload more videos when I’m on a faster connection)