Lacing words of wisdom into a soulful discography brimming with intention and good vibrations, American World collective, Nahko and Medicine for the People, have lit the flame within the conscious music movement while inspiring spiritual attunement. Through lyrics that awaken a map to your consciousness and a stage presence that is felt in the heavens, Nahko and Medicine for the People have created a unique musical world of their own that emboldens listeners to dive into their roots. I caught up with the impassioned gang to chat about their tour, The Dakota Access Pipeline, tattoos and more.
First and foremost, introduce yourself to our readers. Tell us the meaning and intention behind and within Nahko and Medicine for the People.
Aloha, my name is Nahko. Over the past 7 years, my band Medicine for the People has shaped and molded into many different manifestations. The songs are a collection of my life experiences, ideals, visions, and calls to action. It’s hard to describe our sound, but Itunes calls it ‘alternative world’ which I kinda like! Sonically and musically, there’s something in there for everyone. Our name states our belief. We know the power and healing that music has for all life. Its language is a mystery, but it’s power is clearly universal. Through our songs, our personal walks, and leadership we are carrying the torch for weaving of music and activism. We observe our work as a social empowerment movement to move people from a neutral or passive state, into an active and participatory state. We implore all people to cross the bridge into a state of service for the planet so that we may have a beautiful and healthy earth to give to our grandchildren.
Congratulations on the success of your third studio album, ‘HOKA’. Tell us about your experience within the creative and recording process.
Mahalo! HOKA was a really fun record to make. Some of the songs were older than 8 years and others were newer than 8 weeks. We took great care in weaving the songs so that it truly would be a sonic journey. I was impressed and proud of the band, too. This was the first real full length record we had done all together. We matured a lot in this process and therefore the music itself reflects growth and raw talent. Working with Ted Hutt, our producer, was an honour. We learned a lot from him and will take his teachings and insights into the next recording. There is something for everyone on HOKA…it’s an unusual compilation of words and sound and i think that’s why it works so well.
Your lyrical mastery sheds light upon your inner world and simultaneously inspires the world. What has led you to such a state of vulnerability?
First of all, thanks. That was well said. Second, I believe life experience inevitably will offer you a door to walk through. On the other side of that door is a life lead by unconditional love, empathy for the human condition, and the passion to serve. Through my life experiences, I have found a way to translate the wisdom of my heart and mind. It’s a life long practice integrating those teachings into a daily walk. Oddly enough, as a defense learning, I have always put myself in situations that make me uncomfortable so I can learn to find peace in those times. Seemingly masochistic, however absolutely effective. I learn grace and peaceful passage in the transparency of living with courage.
Let’s talk tattoos. Tell us about your personal favorite pieces and the artists that brought them to life.
There have been two major tattoo elders in my life. The first is Lolito Moko, currently out of Byron Bay. He truly brought me into the ceremony of tattooing. I trusted him with the flow and design of my head pieces and left arm. The depth of our brotherhood was clear and I am proud of the story he has told on my skin. There is power in the prayer that is in my skin now. And connection to my ancestors in a new way. The second artist and elder is Elle Mana-Festin. This brother brought me even deeper into my culture and ancestry as a Filipino. First time I met him, he looked at my throat and said, “Ah yeah I’m going to put our tribes mark right there. We’ll do that whole neck.” I cringed for half a second. To live a right of passage from a traditional standpoint is really powerful. You transcend the pain and live the prayer. I can’t even begin to explain how important tattoo storytelling is to me. It is so sacred. I respect all those that understand this tradition. My artwork is a mixture of Filipino, Native American, Polynesian, Puerto Rican, and a little freestyle 🙂 My body’s a canvas and I will continue to paint it.
What is your perception of the conscious music movement?
Sometimes I feel like I’m trailblazing a whole new territory. Like we’re carrying the torch for a new kind of social movement. We reflect deeply on our frontline activist musician ancestors. The way they battled in the 60s is not a far cry from how we must battle now. Art is still art. It will be controversial and without true labels. Not everyone can get the mix of hard hitting poetry and mathematical music to make the perfect blend of tangible art. Awake or asleep. The conscious music is living in little corners all around the world. You may miss it if your only source of new music is Spotify and Soundcloud. Sometimes you just have to wait for it to come to you. So, I suppose to close that question out, I would say that there is a decent amount of music that cradles you, affirms you, challenges you, and/or activates you, but there is not enough.
You are in the midst of your ‘A Call to Action’ tour. Tell us what your experience has been like so far.
Groundbreaking. We were able to implement some old school organiser techniques that we learned from our activist friends. I have a background in theater, so I’ve always loved writing the flow of a show. By taking what we learned at Occupy and other mobilizing events, we narrowed down a handful of potent teachings and pulled them further out of the songs and into a fast paced, fun dialogue. We were able to touch on some important topics to the nation. Things like water, pipelines, indigenous rights, police brutality, etc. All within the safe container of the music. I love that kind of work. This tour has consisted of all west coast dates. This is my hood so I got to reconnect with a lot of amazing revolutionary people throughout the tour and check in with each territory in a good way. The feedback has been great and the shows have been potent.
You guys have been showing your support for those courageously standing up against the 1% at Standing Rock. What are your thoughts around The Dakota Access Pipeline?
It’s got to be the most inspiring thing i’ve seen happen in years. A true prophetic time. A time where tribal nations that have never gathered before overcame ancestoral differences to join hands in battle, love, and prayer for something that we all share. It goes beyond this pipeline and into the solution based dreaming we’ve all been working so hard to create: a sustainable future off of fossil fuels and living free and equal with renewables. We are going to win this. They will use all the tools they have to stop us. But, there are too many human rights violations happening. The world is watching. There will be martyrs. And there will be victory.
What do you perceive is the most significant challenge facing our country today?
Climate change. Climate change is the crossroads of all social and environmental movements. It single handedly has brought all of our battles to one frontline. It is imperative that we all agree that climate change must be combatted with all we’ve got. We don’t have the 40 years they say it would take for us to get off of fossil fuels. We need to make the transition now or our grandchildren will not have access to clean drinking water or GMO free foods. We will not have clean rivers to swim in or oceans to fish in or fish to catch. We have to get out of the mindset that a future like that won’t exist in our lifetime. It can, if we build it.
What do fans of Nahko and Medicine for the People have to look forward to over the next six months?
We are heading back to our beloved Hawaii next week to play some shows and share some surf with our ohana over there. A homecoming of sorts. I’ll be going back out to Standing Rock in December to continue participating in this unique time in history.
Last but certainly not least, any closing messages for your fans?
Tell your story. Even if it starts dark. Shame is a shade of you, colour in the hard parts. Participate in the transition. You won’t regret it. Be mindful of your words. Learn to speak affirmations so that your dreams manifest into reality.