Nahko and Medicine for the People: An interview with Nahko Bear
Nahko and Medicine for the People is a world music collective formed in 2008. The group is led by Oregon-born vocalist Nahko Bear, who holds a mixed ethnic background of Apache, Puerto Rican and Filipino descent. Other members include Chase Makai (guitar), Justin Chittams (drums), Pato (bass guitar), Max Ribner (trumpet) and Hope Medford (percussion). They have released two studio albums, Dark as Night and On the Verge, and a new album will be released later this year.
We caught up with Nahko Bear after their show at Electric Ballroom on Thursday night and had a chat about his personal inspirations, the new album and memories of his first visit to London.
Firstly, welcome back to London – we’re all thrilled to have you guys back. How does it feel to come back and play to us here?
Aloha. It’s great to be back so soon. We were so warmly welcomed last August when we first made the trek over the pond, and it’s already been a full power.
Looking back last summer, what did you enjoy most about your first visit to London?
Ok, so it’s so hard for me not to start trying to speak like y’all. I learned how to sing by imitating other people’s voices until I found my own. So… some of my favourite moments were basically listening to the tribe and friends… talk. Is that weird? I’m just in love with the accent. Ok, but the other thing that I loved was the countryside. It’s a beautiful country. For reals.
You acknowledge your fans as part of your “tribe”. For anyone new, how would you describe your music to them?
There’s something in here for YOU. Come on in. We have candy. Na, joking. But, on the real, there really is something in it for everyone. I think in iTunes we’re under “alternative world”, which is actually really great. I love the umbrella of world music. There’s certainly a lot of culture in our music, band, and poetry. We cover a lot of genres and topics. I would describe it as a ton of fun.
Let’s talk about the new album coming out later this year, working with producer Ted Hutt. How has the experience been for you?
Game changer. Having never worked with a producer before, I didn’t have much to go off of, but Ted was an absolute pleasure to work with and I came out of the experience with a new found elder in music. Ted taught us a lot. He’s got a lot of patience for a bunch of young men just getting started on their musical journey. He really pulled out the best in us. I’m really proud of the band too. They all showed up and put the hard work in. Ted has this way about music… he really showed me how to take these stories and make them better. We drank a lot of coffee, did a lot of pull-ups, even got a couple tears and laughs in there.
What does it mean to you that your music and stories are reaching a wider audience across many countries?
It’s powerful. Emotional. Fulfilling. Sometimes I stare out the window and contemplate how I got here. I’m like… this is wild. Knowing that these prayers, mantras, and reminders to myself are helping other people connect to themselves and to our planet is just… rewarding. It’s universal, the language. And that is magic.
Is there a particular city or country you’ve never been to before and would like to visit, and maybe perform there as well one day?
Santiago. Our bass player, Pato, is from there! Also, San Juan, Puerto Rico. Part of my roots! Oh, and Manila… oh, and the moon. Goals!
You place a strong emphasis on conveying morals and messages in your music (whether that’s about environmental, political or deeply personal issues). Is there one particular song that you feel has had a significant impact on today’s culture?
It would be a toss up between Black as Night or Aloha Ke Akua. Oh, snap. Warrior People, too. Shoots, Wash it Away, too. Ha! I do know that Aloha was the first to go viral and the video that went with it has nearly 5.5 million views now. It no doubt has had a huge impact on the global community. The stories I get from people… stirring and beautiful. I think it challenges us to find gratitude in times of darkness. It’s a gentle reminder to stand tall, I reckon.
You also take the time to raise awareness of various causes. Is there one particular cause that your most passionate about?
Water. It’s connected to everything. We are almost entirely made of it! So, preservation is something I’m super passionate about.
What does success mean to you, and what do you hope to achieve in five years’ time?
Success can be as simple as seeing the look in the tribe’s eyes or the stories they will tell about their experience or how they’ve turned their lives around. It means it’s working! So we press on. I want to be able to cross borders and bring people together that never thought they could find common ground to stand on. And then… we sing!
You’ll be performing across Europe this month. What is the most important thing that you want the audience to take away with them from your live concerts?
Songs on their tongues, love in their hearts, and permanent smiles.
Finally, what words of wisdom would you like to tell readers of The Upcoming?
Sometimes being spiritual means being practical. Like, banning Trump from the UK. Well done. Teach the US a thing or two, eh?
Photo: Josué Rivas Fotographer
For further information about Nahko and Medicine for the People visit here.
Read our review of Nahko and Medicine for the People’s concert at Electric Ballroom here.