Musicians create loyal, cohesive tribes when they have the ability to instil positivity and hope using the power of poetic lyrics and rich, sweet sounds. Nahko Bear and his music and tribe of musicians known as Medicine for the People are part of a growing community of socially conscious, spiritually inclined roots musicians acting as voices for optimism as much as protest.
Nahko and Medicine for the People performed two shows at Bluesfest this year. While many musicians at the festival are unafraid to promote socially conscious messages with their art, Nahko delivers his with spiritual awareness. Starting each show with what seems like a prayer circle with the band members, Nahko’s music is genuinely delivered from the heart. Theirs is no laid back, easy going performance, however. It’s a joyous party that had the crowd dancing from the first song. Pip Andreas caught up with Nahko Bear before his appearance at Bluesfest 2019.
Do you feel that activism through music is having any effect in the US and the rest of the world?
Yeh I do, I mean I would always like to see what we do be more aggressive and more a combined effort. I’m sure you’ve had the experience where you’re thinking that little light in your consciousness where you’re thinking “this is what this time is about” and you tell someone else and they’re already on it. It’s a very exciting time for awakening because even though politically the world seems like it’s collapsing, in whatever country where you have democracy, the workings may seem like they’re failing, and you think is there an undercurrent of a majority in a certain way of thinking? And I think there is. I think with technology and our ability to travel to these far reaching places … we may not ever see how ingrained it is into the human psyche. But in our country at least (USA), when you see different legislation being passed and social movements being strong in those areas, I kinda look at it and go “cool” the music that’s being brought to those areas is actually positively affecting them. It’s really hard to guage. But like, capitalism sucks and it ends up being our struggle because we have mouths to feed and we have bills to pay. It’s not like we can devote our entire lives to this work, but we do our best.
‘Dear Brother’ seems like a call to human decency in America. Will that be coming out on any album soon?
It will be. It’s currently being recorded actually. I just wrapped two weeks of some very deep strategising and performance.
On your last album ‘My Name is Bear’ you share songs you recorded from ages 18 to 21. Is that part one of a series of previously unreleased songs?
Yeh, There may be a part two and part three. There’s so much backlog of music that I have.
Paris Jackson was in the video for ‘Dragonfly’. How did that come about?
The usual in my life is that fantastic human beings just show up. Paris and I met four years ago. We were kind of neighbors in LA and when she wrote to me on Twitter, I had no idea who she was, but we became really good friends. When I gave her some songs to listen to, she expressed an interest in that song. It gave me the idea to make her the focal point of the video coz I thought it would be dope and she said agreed to it.
You spent a lot of your youth connecting with your Native American background. I’m wondering if you feel a calling to connect with your Philippine background?
That’s a great question. No-one’s ever asked me that before. I guess it’s just about timing. I spent a lot of time with Native Americans, Turtle Island and Puerto Rico. One of the biggest pains in my heart is not knowing my mother tongue in both Spanish and Tigalo. So in my dream-boarding I would leave the States in a couple of years to spend a year abroad to soak up more of my culture and be able to put that into music as well. I look forward to shutting off my American life for a while and going out there.
Do you miss your farm in Hawaii?
Oh my gosh, everyday! My brother runs it and I go back and visit once a year. I’ve relocated to the forests of Oregon now. I have a little farm out here.