The Indonesian band Nasi Campur has a unique sound drawn from different musical traditions to which their members belong

Nasi Campur, the Indonesian rice dish, is a mishmash of vegetables and meats, wok-tossed to form a unified whole. Nasi Campur, the young band from Indonesia, is a similar conglomeration of musical energies drawn from different countries, coming together for a unique sound. In India for the first time to perform at the recently-concluded GoMAD arts festival in Ooty, the band dropped into Kochi afterward for a gig by Springr at Loungevity. In Nasi Campur’s words, “It was an insane night!”

The band’s lead guitarist, and only Indian among them, is Achyuth Jaigopal from Kochi, a finger-style classical guitarist with eight Trinity Grades to his credit, now expanding his technique to blues and reggae. Their vocalist Daisy Sampson is Australian and grew up listening to blues and soul, while guitarist and singer Isami Rashid counts his Zimbabwean mother as his primary musical influence. The other three members of the band, bassist Jessye Carmi, percussionist Kadek Rai and drummer Komang Priatna call Bali their home, with their indigenous music as a common reference. It is this rich variety of musical traditions that Nasi Campur draws from for their identity. Ask them what their distinct sound is though, and Komang laughs saying, “We haven’t found it yet! We’re still on that search, which is a good place to be in. For now, you could call us an eclectic reggae act.”

The band originated in the Green School, Bali, an international school, where all the members except Komang, had music classes in common. They got together to compete at an interschool competition earlier this year, Battle of the Bands, which they went on to win. “Our line-up has seen many changes since, but this is the final group for now,” says Isami. Winning the competition opened them to several performance venues in Bali, which helped them grow as a band, he adds. India is their first international experience. While most of the band is still in school, Isami has graduated, and Komang, their oldest member, is a professional drummer with several Bali bands. He joined Nasi Campur for the GoMAD gig, and will continue with them.

Nasi Campur prides itself on playing “conscious music” — that which is aware of, and engaged with, social and political situations around them. “We’re interested in environmental issues, in exploring your own self, to knowing who you are to the fullest possible,” says Achyuth. Their song ‘Over the Mountain’, for instance, talks about being lucky to be alive, and it encourages people to “go over the mountain” and overcome their fears; ‘Stand Up’ asks one to stand up for what one believes is just and right. Nasi Campur’s music is written primarily by lyricists Daisy and Isami. “One of us will come to a rehearsal with the lyrics done and a rough tune in place; the song could take a whole different path once the band gets jamming to it,” says Daisy. The reverse process works too, adds Kadek. “Sometimes the instrumentalists could be playing around with a musical idea, which could develop into a full track and the lyricists add their bit.” The band currently has 10 original songs, with ‘Stand Up’ released as a studio single.

‘Stand Up’ was responsible for bringing Nasi Campur to India for GoMAD. “We sent them this single and they invited us over,” says Achyuth. “Playing there was incredible. It was 11 in the morning and we didn’t expect anyone, but people came along, sang and danced!” says Isami. Their set list included their originals and two covers, one of an ancient African piece and another of a Bali folk song. In the future, the band hopes to keep writing music, record their first full-length album at Komang’s studio and tour more. Nasi Campur’s India visit coincided with the blasts at Patna and local street protests in Kochi, the reasons behind which the band was curious to know of. “This is why we write music,” says Isami, “As the negatives in the world increase, the positives must too.”