"Hoka Hey," a Sioux battle cry loosely meaning, "Today is a good day to die," is the motto that Nahko and the Medicine People live and play music by. They call it their own prayer of intention to take direct action and perhaps make today a better day to live. The band's globally and politically conscious, spirited and tribal hip-hop folk addresses issues from global climate to indigenous people's causes, nature and spiritual soul searching.
The Source caught up with Nahko Bear, singer and guitarist for the group, about how his spiritual past, his layered ethnicity and drinking whiskey affect his musical product.
Source Weekly: Tell me about the movement you are trying to create in music?
Nahko Bear: What did Yoda say? There is no try, only do!
SW: It seems to me almost similar to a spiritual experience, did you grow up in a religious household? Were you raised traditionally religious or was your upbringing alternative?
NB: I did grow up very religious. Baptist. Super intense! It was all I knew though. When I left at 17 there was a sour taste in my mouth for sure, but over the years I've come to appreciate the root of my religious upbringing and divert the doctrine towards a more wholesome spiritual view rooted in other practices such as Native American spirituality.
SW: Tell me a little bit about your multi-cultural background and how that has played a part in your music?
NB: My mother is Apache and Puerto Rican and my father was Filipino and Guamis.
My ethnicity has played a huge part in the storytelling I do. Identity is a huge chunk of these stories and soul searching—trying to find my place in a world of mutts and wanting to share that bridge-building story with the rest of the world. I identify with all quadrants of my culture as well as the generation of kids that feel lost because their ancestry is so mixed they're not sure who they are.
SW: How can music be an agent of communal healing, social and environmental justice? How are you a part of that as an artist?
NB: Music has always been used for these purposes—our ancestors knew this and practiced it in many different formats. As far as music and justice is concerned, we as poets and musicians have always had the unique responsibility to use our podium to bring awareness to all kinds of issues. I feel like music IS activism—activating people to open something up and move inwards things around. I feel like these songs speak the language of the earth—like translating for nature—the songs come from there. So to be able to say what needs to be said or what we are all thinking is a really beautiful experience and blessing. We've seen our legends of the past write songs that bring nations together or go into areas of the world and create peace with songs...it's a part of what we the troubadours are here for.
SW: How does the way that you make music differ from other mainstream groups that sing about whiskey drinking or how great their cars are rather than the heavier issues, the "real talk" that you address in your songs? Do you see value in music that doesn't address "real" issues?
NB: Well, don't get me wrong, I like drinking whiskey and well...I don't have a car, but I always have a sense of appreciation for any kind of music. Some of it's just dumb, yeah, but somebody's getting off on it and well...great. Most people would be surprised at my iPod and what I listen to—I like mindless music just as much as the next person. I come from a musical background that spans classical to jazz to oldies to hip-hop to indie rock. It all inspires me in some format. So yes, I value all music. Even country.
SW: You've had several videos go what I would call "viral," which means to me that even my Mom was posting them on her Facebook wall (she loves your music by the way). You are one of the many bands that have figured out how to use YouTube and social media to your advantage. How does the age of the internet effect the ability to deliver your music and your message?
NB: Ha, we love you, mom! I personally love social media and tools like YouTube. It's my generation, so I find them to be super helpful and by far the best way to reach people around the globe. Surely, there are cons about social media. But, for what we do—the visual and audio and text provided in social media is so crucial to making our message even more known and prominent.
SW: What's next for Medicine For the People? What are your aspirations as a band?
NB: We have a huge summer and fall tour we're in the middle of, but we are really excited to begin working on our third record this winter. It's going to be an epic next chapter! Aspirations as a band...get better, have more fun, grow spiritually within ourselves and communities, see the climate heal via songs (!), and be in the middle of the greatest changes this generation has ever seen.
Nahko and Medicine for the People
Thurs., July 24
Munch & Music, Drake Park.