Regulars and Shorts

Speaking with Nahko Bear, of Nakho and Medicine for the People

By Z. Smith

The five-member world music band, Nahko and Medicine for the People, will be playing in Salt Lake City at The Depot on Sunday, February 14, 2016.

**Update from November 4, 2019: Nahko will be playing at The Depot on November 8, 2019. He’ll be releasing a new album spring 2020.**

The band has been together for nearly eight years and continues to expand their demographic in every possible direction; their ultimate mission being the creation of a universal love and global unity. They have toured with the likes of reggae heroes SOJA, Sanskrit chanting Trevor Hall, and poetically charged Michael Franti. And, by playing roughly twenty different national and international music festivals, have made touring and performance a true staple of their ever-blossoming career. We recently had the pleasure of checking in with frontman, vocalist, and rhythm guitarist, Nahko Bear, via email:

CATALYST: Tell us about your new album, HOKA.

Nahko: The new album is going to solidify our place in the world music genre. We cover a lot of territory. There’s something in there for everyone. It’s a raw, honest look at how much we’ve matured and sound and feel and listen. So many feels. It merges the warrior and the dancer. It touches on commitment and discipline and gives lots of room for improvement on self. The title alone is a call to action. I sense this record will do a lot of good for a lot of wounded souls and provide a killer soundtrack to a swiftly changing planet.

CATALYST: Your music and lyrics tell stories. How do you see the art and history of storytelling playing into your work?

Nahko: It’s a craft I’m still trying to refine. Sometimes a story can be total crap, but how it’s delivered makes it gold. I used to think I was terrible at telling stories. So, I practiced. On myself. And I’m my worst critic.

CATALYST: What is meant by the band’s name, “…Medicine for the People”?

Nahko: We see music as medicine. Something that heals. Something that changes you on a cellular level. It’s the power of poetry. 

CATALYST: In a past interview with Lilou Mace, you described music as a form of ceremony. Please talk about this.

Nahko: I’m basically sharing my prayers, mantras, and reminders to myself to a bunch of people who also recognize their search for truth, connection and purpose. The ceremony is the time we take to drop in and connect with each other. To me it’s more than just a show. It’s like going to church, I guess. We praise the Great Mystery for this beautiful planet. We give thanks for this beautiful life. It’s fun seeing people who think we’re just a bunch of hippies get dosed. One way or another, they let go of their cynicism and see the real social work at hand. We work with energy. We work with words.

CATALYST: On your website, various organizations—like Honor the Earth, Be the Change Charities, Conscious Alliance, and Do It for The Love—are listed under your “Causes” page. How is it that you became affiliated with these organizations? And why do these organizations garner your support?

Nahko: I’m on the board of Honor the Earth and Be the Change and have been working closely with them for some time now. Both are based in the Midwest and over the years we’ve been able to merge our music with the works of both organizations—climate change solutions, youth empowerment in native communities, helping disabled people get special access to music events, funding raising for varying artist causes, and anti-fracking movements to name a few. These topics all hit close to home. We all suffer the consequences of bad business planning in the interest of corporate gain. It only makes sense to me to be involved with this kind of activism. Music to me is activism. These movements to protect and preserve need a good soundtrack.

CATALYST: What do you do as a band, and individually, to keep vibrations high?

Nahko: We have a lot of meetings these days. On tour, we meet before each show to make sure we’re all doing okay and to talk about how things are going. It’s a super healthy way to keep us all on the same page and keep us feeling tight. Oh, and the 7min work out is a huge piece to high vibes. And soccer. And yoga.

CATALYST: Your friends, family and fans are called the Tribe. In what ways do they influence your work?

Nahko: They’re everything. On my search for my own family, I ended up creating one. The Tribe is proving to be more resilient than ever. They’ve created an enormous sounding board on FaceBook. Almost every state has their own page. Basically, taking my advice and doing it themselves. Creating community.

CATALYST: What is the first moment music meant something to you?

Nahko: I remember falling in love with Scott Joplin when I was a kid. I couldn’t stop playing him. There were some cold Portland winters I played every open mic every week. I started taking over a couple ones, specifically a coffee shop called Muddy Waters. Those days were the ones I would walk back to my van so high off of the sessions that I remember thinking I didn’t want to do anything else.

CATALYST: Who have been your influences?

Nahko: Conner Oberst, Broken Social Scene, The Tallest Man on Earth, Trevor Hall, K’naan, Pablo Neruda, Immortal Technique, my families, Black Elk, John Trudell, Winona LaDuke, Pua Case, Rage Against the Machine, AC/DC, Paul Simon, Cat Stevens, Queen, Jeff Buckley…to name a few.

CATALYST: What would you like people, and the world, to take away from your music?

Nahko: Whatever they’re meant to. That’s the crazy thing. Everyone gets something different. I guess, overall, I hope that it brings people closer to themselves and to this planet we seem to have forgotten to take care of. I would hope they would find some empowerment in my stories and some allies in the tribe.

CATALYST: You headlined at last summer’s Mystic Hot Springs music festival. We’ve seen you at Deer Valley. For how long have you and the band been coming to Utah? What are some of your memories of Utah?

Nahko: Well, I’ve been passing through Utah for quite a few years now. To play, gotta be fewer than 10. Back in August of 2012, as I recall, a caravan of my homies and I were passing through on our way to Minnesota. Caught a flat somewhere in the north and pulled off into this tiny little Mormon town to try and find a shop with a spare. Mind you, we were driving super old vans. We definitely looked like vagabonds. Rolled out of the van and a group of kids drove by and yelled the ‘n’ word out the window at me. Couldn’t help but laugh at their ignorance. I never forgot that. That town was so white even the little kids at the ice cream shop couldn’t help but stare at me and gawk. I was like an alien. It was kinda creepy. Anyway, it reminded me to focus on compassion. Because, the first natural thing to do is retaliate. The best memory I have of Utah, though, was opening for Xavier Rudd and getting swept away on a motorcycle by this outrageously gorgeous artist babe after the show. She spun me around the quiet streets and gave me a tour of her babe cave. Tea and poetry and stars and pheromones. Proper.

CATALYST: Thanks, Nahko. We’ll see you at The Depot next Sunday, February 14.

This article was originally published on February 4, 2016.