It took days of trekking through the dense rainforests of Papua, often rising well before dawn, to capture the sounds featured on Ninda Felina's latest track "The Birds of Paradise," a laid-back techno track saturated with the sounds of nature.
The track was just the latest collaboration between the Jakarta-based DJ and Greenpeace's Save Our Sounds project. Ninda fought forest fires tearing through peatlands, and then volunteered to work as part of a prevention team to try to make sure Indonesia doesn't have another haze crisis on its hands the next burning season.
It's work that's been both heartbreaking (the devastation of the fire zone) and moving (the beauty of the rainforest). We sat down with Ninda before her set at at the Thailand's Wonderfruit Festival to figure out how she brought the sounds of the rainforest to the dance floors of Jakarta.
VICE: So you've been doing a lot of work with Greenpeace recently?
Ninda Felina: I played [at Thailand's Wonderfruit Festival] for the Greenpeace Save Our Sounds project. It's a collaboration project, a creative way to reach urban people and raise awareness about the forests through visuals and music. As a DJ, I'm trying to take people with me on the journey I've been to Malagufuk village, in West Papua.
What were you doing in Papua?
We had the chance to meet the Bird of Paradise and Cassowary, really lots of animals in the jungle. This was my very first experience making music from raw sounds from the jungle. This project is really important, from the inside out, for both me and the Earth. SOS is a chance for me and all people who live in the urban jungle to raise awareness, to do something right now and protect the intact forests that we still have.
We know that Indonesian forests are incredible. And we need to realize now that so many creatures are dependent on the forest. It’s a home for millions of species and many of them are already classified as endangered. Then there are also hundreds Indonesian tribes who still live in the heart of the jungle...
And yet these forests are vanishing at an alarming rate.
If our forest goes, it’s not only the people living there who suffer. All of us living in the city do too. Sometimes city people really get swept up in the hustle and bustle of crowded city life and the forest feels remote, but love it or not we're also affected. That's why I decided to collaborate with Greenpeace in this project. Using my own expertise as a DJ, I want to connect people in the urban jungle to the real jungle through the music that I created from sounds in the forest that I recorded myself. There are beautiful sounds out there in the forest, sounds that most of us never heard and unfortunately may never get to hear because of deforestation. It’s an ugly truth. We must admit that the forest is decreasing more and more each year, and that we need to act now to try to save the beautiful sounds that remain there.
What was it like being out there in the jungles like that?
We had a long trek into the Birds of Paradise park. It was really hard to find. We took five hours to find the spot and it was quite a bit of effort for us. There were so many many leeches and we had to walk through mud because we were traveling in the rainy season. We failed on the first try so we had to take another trip to find the Birds of Paradise. There were a lot of leeches on my face. I was like “OK!”
This isn’t the first time time you’ve partnered with Greenpeace?
This is the third! The first time I worked with Greenpeace was as a firefighter in the forest fires in 2013 and 2015. Previously, I was involved as a member of forest fire prevention team working in the burning peatlands to put out the fires. All I saw then was destruction but now I had the chance to witness beautiful pristine Indonesian forest with my own eyes. I really embraced that.
What was it like?
I was really nervous and excited about going to Papua. It’s a challenge because this was the first time I trekked into the heart of the rainforest. Hours of mud, leeches, rain, but it's totally worth the pain! This was also my first time to record wildlife sounds. I had help from Mark Roberts, he's a professional wildlife sound recordist. He taught me a lot! From him I learned how to record sound in the wild, how to operate a special wildlife sound recorder that could record bird's sounds, how to understand the wildlife.
Cenderawasih or the Birds of Paradise usually fly high near the forest canopy, but in early morning they're usually lower, near the river. So we needed to be on their usual site on time to record their calls. We’d start at 4 a.m., walking through steep mud for two hours. We got there in time but we had just missed them. But we didn't give up. We got a second shot where we woke up earlier and started walk at 2 a.m. We decided to wait at the Cenderawasih site rather than to miss the chance again.
I really remember that time. It was 6:30 a.m., I almost fell asleep on the forest floor and sun was coming. Mark whispered for me to follow him. So we stepped slowly and avoided to making any noise. And then we saw it! That was our lucky day; we had a chance to see a couple of Cenderawasih flirting with each other. The sound was really beautiful and their dances were so amazing. The recording sounded so great, I was really amazed with what we found and it energized me more to produce the song with full love to our forest.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.