We Sat Down With the Powerful Artist to Talk All Things Inspiration and Culture
Written By: Caroline Thompson
Photography Provided By: Luke Brunda
Nahko and Medicine for the People have always channeled struggles into a social movement that has touched thousands of lives around the world. Once a farmer in Hawaii, Nahko has since “settled down” in Santa Monica where he kicks it with Hollywood’s finest when he is on break from touring. Most recently, Nahko and Medicine for the People were the opening act for Rebelution during the Good Vibes tour. Before the band commanded the stage at the Pacific Amphitheater, I was able to sit down with Nahko Bear and discuss his powerful lyrics, spirituality and even his man-crush on Chance the Rapper.
Q: How’s the tour going?
Nahko Bear: The tour is going great. There are so many different levels and it’s been interesting because we’ve never toured with three bands before. We don’t specifically play reggae, so touring with Rebelution and Hirie has been cool because we get to touch an entirely different group of people.
Q: There is definitely a variety of people who come to your shows. How would you describe that as you tour around the country?
NB: There is a rainbow of people that show up, especially a strong black and latino population on the West Coast. Our content and the set we’ve been playing has been challenging for people to understand, especially on the East Coast. There is just a lot of tension over there. They feel the sensitivity of the country and the uneasiness of the world. Since we’re such big activists, our music can rub people the wrong way. But if we weren’t stirring things up, we wouldn’t be doing our job. The whole point is to create dialogue and people aren’t talking enough about how they feel. They aren’t hearing other people’s perspective. What better way to do that than through music?
Q: How do you find time to unwind and relax when you’re not playing?
NB: Usually I’m really casual about it but recently it’s caught up with me. We’re putting out a record soon. I’m campaigning for a lot of different causes, we’re in the middle of hiring new people. I haven’t been able to do some of the things I love like surfing and pig hunting in Hawaii.
Q: Yeah, speaking of Hawaii, how do you go from the island life to Santa Monica?
NB: I left my farm in Hawaii for good when I started touring full-time. After that I was pretty nomadic and didn’t really have a home base. But one day when I was driving through Topanga I was like, yeah I can definitely see myself living here. I needed to be by the ocean so I could surf. Sunshine and surf are what it’s all about.
Q: There is a quote by John Trudell that I would like your input on. “When one lives in a society where people can no longer rely on the institutions to tell them the truth, the truth must come from culture and art.” Do you believe that this applies to your music?
NB: Because I am such an advocate for this multicultural platform, I think my music speaks to that regard. Young people need to get more involved in government and try not to stay bitter about everything that is going on. We don’t necessarily want to preach to the choir with our music, but we all have healing to do. The wound is so deep right now in our country that it’s forcing us, as artists, to get hella creative and encourage people to wake up. The enemy is never sleeping. They are working around the clock.
Q: Do you think the reason behind your music has changed over time?
NB: It’s changed dramatically every step of the way. In the beginning, I started playing piano because I was kind of forced to growing up. Then I started writing really bad songs when I was 14, including one called Raspberry Charm. We’ll talk about that later (laughing). But then I began writing stuff that I loved and, at that point, I just wanted people to hear my songs. Today, I know how much my music has changed my life and has helped me heal. So I want to share that. That is my work. You work, of course, always to serve yourself and grow into your highest being, but you also must work equally as hard to give more than you take. It’s a lifelong practice. But, to answer your question, the essence behind my music has always stayed the same. It’s just the style that has evolved.
Q: What is the meaning behind your new song “Dear Brother”?
NB: The chorus is about getting out of your own way so you can grow. At every show, I teach the crowd the chorus and it turns into this social empowerment movement. It’s really beautiful to see, especially when everyone is singing along.
Q: What is a piece of advice you can give to young people today?
NB: Stay open-minded and, above all, be kind.
Nahko and his band Medicine for the People are dropping their newest album “My Name is Bear” on October 20th of this year. Check out Nahko’s website for more information on upcoming music and tour dates.
100 Fair Dr
Costa Mesa, CA 92626