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Krisna Patra: Make Grooves Not War

For this session of musical mind melding we catch up with solo performer and front man for The Mangrooves, an eco-activist and all around third-culture rude-buoy, Nyoman Krisna for his take on Bali’s music scene, eco-apocalypse and how to manage your soul in these trying times… Portraits: Anita Taylor. Other images: Chris Littlechild

So Krishna, you grew up here on Bali? Where are your folks from?

Yep, Bali born and bred. My father is Balinese and my mother moved here from Australia, but she’s originally English and part Italian. But my real folks come from the stars.

How did you first get into music? Musical family?

Definitely – my mother bought me my first guitar when I was eight, and she has been my greatest teacher ever since. I’ve been very blessed to receive the encouragement and support from her. She would often take me to see the local legends performing live like Saharadja, Tropical Transit and the Moko Blues band. Music has always been a great part of my life, from singing in school choirs to jamming with friends after school.

When did you know that music would be your calling in life?

Music became second nature to me from a very young age, but it wasn’t until high school that I decided to take it to a more serious level. The school I was in didn’t have a music program, so I dropped out and went straight into university to pursue my music career. At the time, I knew music is what I wanted to do, but the reason of why was more because I wasn’t particularly good at mathematics or business. I didn’t really know why I wanted to do music, it was just the only thing I was good at.

Later, when I was studying at university, I was busking with some friends on the streets. I remember there was one man, he looked homeless, and was watching intently. On the way home, he was in the same train, and he said to us, “if it weren’t for your music, I would’ve taken my life today”. This made me feel like music could touch people on a deeper level, and if I can do this, perhaps I can contribute to the human consciousness in a positive way.

I also remember my mum taking me to a Michael Franti concert when I was about 12, and I asked her what does he do besides music? And she said, he’s an environmental activist as well. So this opened up my mind to more possibilities; I could use my music as a tool for raising awareness about current issues. Ever since then I  wanted to be a musician and environmental activist.

Do you remember the first concert you attended?

I have a memory of being in a concert on Sanur beach in the mid ’90s where No Doubt played a show before they got big.  That was cool.

Who would you say are your strongest musical influences?

Some artists that really influenced me to develop this looping style would defiinately be DUB FX, Cello Joe, and Bernhoft. These guys really took the looping art to the next level. OKA has also inspired me to combine ethnic instruments with a modern twist. These guys combine the didgeridoo with some mad beats and bass lines. Some other artists that I love are Fat Freddy’s drop, Katchafire, Bobby McFerrin, Nina Simone, Sting/The Police, Sublime, War, and Antibalas.

How did The Mangrooves come together?

The Mangrooves actually started as a Indie rock band called The Average Citizens with lead singer Jacobus Koopman, Mark Vleuges on Bass & Keys, Nick Vleuges on guitar and Robert Septihady on drums. Then Jacobus decided to pursue his musical career in Ireland as I had just moved back from Australia from finishing my studies in Uni along with my brother Ben who played the percussion in the band. So we decided to keep the band going but with a different concept and genre, playing Soul, Funk and Rocksteady Reggae rhythms and changed the name to The Mangrooves.

What’s the biggest challenge you find so far in doing what you do?

Getting a good sound at live venues is always a challenge for me. There are some amazing sound crews out there, but for the most part, I think sound is under appreciated on the island. Most venues think, get a bunch of speakers and cables, turn the volume up and you’re good to go. But the reality is sound is an art in itself, and the lack of understanding can be really detrimental for the performer. So now I either bring along my own sound crew, or I’m my own sound engineer.

What’s new in the pipeline?

At the moment I’m working on my solo project, Floop, whch short for Flute Loops. What I do is I loop my guitar rhythm, a bass line and a beat box, and then play the flute over it. It’s sort of like my band-in-a-box. It’s really fun and exciting. I’m hoping to record an album of this by the end of the year.

How can the music scene change for better and also affect other causes important to Bali?

Well, for a start I think we have incredible talent here on the island, but too many cover bands. Because there isn’t much platform for original music, most musicians have to chase cover gigs in cafes just to survive. This takes away from their creativity and turns passion into a job. This is a shame really, because the talent here is incredible.

Some bands like Navicula, SID and No Stress are really using their music to voice out issues like Tolak Reklamasi, and also the trash problem we have here on the island, and everywhere else for that matter. I think more bands should be like this;  use their music as a tool for voicing people’s struggles.

What collaborations would you like to see happen?

Musically, I would love to see Made Mawut play some blues alongside Dadang Pranoto with his incredible slide guitaring. Otherwise I would like to see the government collaborate with the initiatives that are concerned with improving the environmental situation we have here on the island.

What’s your dream?

My dream is to live on a boat that is fully self sustainable, equipped with a perma-culture garden, renewable energy and zero waste. I also dream of traveling the world with my music, learning from different musical heritages and experiencing different cultures along side my beautiful family.

Favorite footwear?

My feet! Ha ha, no, I have these comfy slippers that I wear everywhere. I love them!

Thanks so much for your time online, Kris! Keep up the great work and we’ll see you skanking around town somewhere in The Yak. To hear and find out more about The Mangrooves and other related projects head on over to