Q&A with NAHKO AND MEDICINE FOR THE PEOPLE – Chatting About New Album: HOKA, Lightning In A Bottle and Everything In Between!
Posted On 09 May 2016
Tag: All Access, All Access Music, All Access Music Group, All Access Music Group & A&R World Wide Radio Summit, allaccessmusicnicole, Anderson Paak, Apache, Arcade Fire, Avett Brothers, Bob Marley, BottleRock, BottleRock Napa, Bright Eyes, Bumbershoot, Byron Bay Blues & Roots Festival, California, California Roots Music Festival, Calle 13, Chase Makai, Crazy Horse, Dark As Night, David Hale, Dead Prez, Dropkick Murphys, Edward Sharpe, Electric Forest, Ellie Goulding, Feist, Filipino, Foo Fighters, Great Plains, Hawane, Head and The Heart, Heatseekers, Hoka, Huffington Post, Joseph, Justin Beiber, Justin Chittams, Kentucky, Lakota, Landlock Blues, LIB, LIB 2016, LIB2016, Lightning In A Bottle, Lightning In A Bottle 2016, Los Angeles, Lucero, Make A Change, Max Ribner, Michael Franti, Mumford And Sons, Nahko, Nahko and Medicine for the People, Nahko Bear, NAMFTP, Napa, Native American, Nirvana, Old Crow Medicine Show, Outside Lands, Pato, Pua Case, Puerto Rican, Raury, Rising Appalachia’s Leah Song, San Quentin, Side One Dummy Records, SideOneDummy Records, Slow Motion, SOJA, The Gaslight Anthem, The Huffington Post, The Tallest Man On Earth, Third Eye Blind, Tim Snider, Topanga, Topanga Canyon, Trevor Hall, Wanderlust, Weezer, wine country, Xavier Rudd, Zella Day
Some people go a lifetime without knowing their mission in life, without feeling they have true calling, and without knowing why they even do what they do. Nahko is not one of them. And that calling and mission has never been clearer than it is on Nahko and Medicine for the People’s third full length album, HOKA (SideOneDummy Records).On HOKA, Nahko’s voice is strong. His mission is clear. The mandate has been thrown down.
“Hoka is a Lakota word, an indigenous tribe from the Great Plains, it is a call to action. It’s what Crazy Horse would say when he went into battle, ‘Hoka, hey!’ My call is to put action to the words that I speak and the lyrics I sing. Not just to talk, but to do,” ~ says Oregonborn singer/songwriter Nahko, who is of Puerto Rican, Native American (Apache), and Filipino descent.
“This is the soundtrack of the movement for a better planet,” he continues.
“I want to challenge myself and others to make a change.” “Hoka,” which is the intro to the first track, “Directions,” is one of the album’s many song intros used as a way to round out the storytelling on the tracks. “On this intro, my uncles are chanting the lyrics to ‘Directions’ in Lakota, and the three female voices include a clairvoyant, an astrologer, and a friend who all had important messages for me that are a big part of my story,” he explains.
It’s been three years since the Los Angeles, California based Nahko and Medicine for the People’s last record, Dark As Night. That release reached No. 4 on Billboard’s Top Alternative New Album, No. 6 on the Heatseekers album chart, No. 36 on the Top Independent Album chart, and No. 7 in Australia on Triple J’s Top 10 Roots Albums of 2013.
Nahko and Medicine for the People gathered more members of their global tribe of likeminded fans as they spread their powerful and impactful musical message on tour with such acts as Michael Franti, Xavier Rudd, SOJA, and Trevor Hall, and on festivals including Outside Lands, Electric Forest, Wanderlust, Bumbershoot, California Roots Music Festival, Byron Bay Blues & Roots Festival, and many more.
Critics have praised the group’s worldly blend of rock, hiphop, and altfolk. OC Weekly called the group which also includes Chase Makai (lead guitar), Justin Chittams (drums), Pato (bass and kora),Tim Snider (violin) and Max Ribner (horns), “empowering” and “powerful.
“The Huffington Post called Dark As Night “beautiful and stirring,” and compared Nahko to Bob Marley and a “musical prophet.”
That prophetic nature comes through even stronger on HOKA, which was produced by Grammy Award winning producer Ted Hutt (The Gaslight Anthem, Old Crow Medicine Show, Lucero, Dropkick Murphys)
“Over the last three years, I’ve been cracked open so deeply in my own healing to really give this record my all,” explains Nahko. “My style of writing and my intentions with how I put things together has evolved a lot. I’m able to better paint the picture after time on the road, seeing firsthand the emotional state of the people of the world, of how sick people are, and how much healing they need.”
The personal healing that he refers to, is based on the fact that he is product of a mother who was just 14 years old when she was forced into human trafficking. He was adopted at 9 months old and in his 20s, learned about his family’s tragic backstory. This is the inspiration for his life’s work and music.To that end, “San Quentin” is a pivotal song in the telling of his story. It was inspired by Nahko’s visit with the imprisoned man who murdered his father, a father he had never met. “It’s about forgiveness,” says Nahko.
“I went there to forgive this man and in forgiving him, I freed myself. It only hurts yourself to hang onto hate. Forgiveness empowers you to create change. I believe everything happens for a reason good and bad. People are put in your life for a reason, and you need to turn that pain into something positive to make the world a better place.”
“Make a Change,” which features singer/songwriter Zella Day, represents the heart of this record.
“I was challenging myself to take action on what’s important, to not make the same mistakes over and over, and continue to evolve. It’s aimed at the youth, in a sense, because we as the youth have to be the ones to get out of the vicious cycle of negativity,” he explains.
Other guests include Trevor Hall, Xavier Rudd, Rising Appalachia’s Leah Song, and the female trio Joseph on both “Directions” and “The Wolves Have Returned.” Hawane, a Hawaiian singer, and Pua Case, one of Nahko’s spiritual teachers and Hawane’s mother, appear on “Ku Kia’i Mauna.” The album cover, by artist David Hale, sums up the theme as well. Nahko explains,
“It’s a warrior dancer. The warrior needs to be strong, and the dancer represents grace. Through the merging of the two you get change through peace. You get Hoka.”
All Access Music writer, Nicole DeRosa had the pleasure of catching up with Nahko Bear on tour. Enjoy their chat below!
Hi Nahko! How are you today? Where does our interview find you and what else is on the agenda besides our interview?
Hui, Aloha Nicole! I’m currently sitting backstage in Kentucky! Sound check is after this and then another beautiful soul’d out show tonight. That’s what’s up!
First things first, I’m so excited to see you perform at LIGHTNING IN A BOTTLE. What is it about that particular festival that made you want to join the LIB tribe and come perform?
“I’ve been anxious to check out LIB for years now. It’s kind of a bucket list thang for me. I’m excited too!”
Nahko, you are the “musical tribesman” (so to speak) for the American world music musical collective known as Nahko and Medicine For The People which blends a fusion of various cultural musical influences and a desire to bridge cultural gaps. For those that are not as familiar with you and your music, who or what was the catalyst for you to want to live the life of a musical gypsy?
Oh goodness, there are so many factors in the reasons. I was farming on big island for years before I fully committed to this lifestyle. The vagabond way has always been in my blood since I left home at 17.
“Alaska was a big catalyst for my wanderlust soul. I lived there off and on for two years after leaving home. I love the road. There’s something unusual and uprooting and unsettling and magical about it. Many people have come and gone in my life to guide me to where I am now. Such a fun ride, this thing called life.”
I’m so excited for NAMFTP’s upcoming release as I just watched the behind the scenes video with a look into the studio for The Making Of HOKA! It sounds so incredible! The new album, HOKA will be available on June 10th (pre-order here: http://nahko.com/ ) What did you learn from previous releases, collaborations and playing live that you felt you wanted to infused in your latest release?
I’m excited too! This record has so much to it. It’s a mature sound for us. The last record was an experiment in sound. I recorded most of it with an uncle in an upstairs closet haha. This new record is all of us playing! It shows our true musical talent.
“Topics cover so much on this record too with stories that span ten years. I’m really am proud of it. It is finally a closer look at what has always been in my head.”
Nahko, chat with me about the track, “Make A Change” (extended version featuring Ms. Zella Day). How did that track come about and what made you want to collaborate with Ms. Zella on that particular track? (Sidenote: You guys were also a great cooking team together there at BottleRock Napa last year!)
I wrote that song in Topanga Canyon in 2013 when I was living there for four months. It is a reminder to myself to get my act together and that there is no time to waste on distractions and petty things.
Zella came up to my house one day and helped me finish writing the chorus. For us, it’s also the song that got us thru a lot of transitions and such together and separate. We have been close friends for years and have a deep connection through our music and missions in life.
“I am honored to share that song with Zella Day and the world. I’m super proud of her and what she’s doing in the world too….and her cooking is amazing, too!”
You have collaborated and toured with some other lovely musicians such as: Michael Franti, Trevor Hall, Xavier Rudd, SOJA to name only a few. Who would you love to collaborate or tour with next?
“I’ve got the Avett Brothers on my radar and I we will be doing Red Rocks with them this summer! I hope that flourishes into something more! “
I’ve been a huge fan of theirs for years. I love to tour with the Head And The Heart, Edward Sharpe, Mumford And Sons and even the Arcade Fire…dreams..
Today everything is so instant like Spotify, Soundcloud etc. You push a button and it’s yours. What was the first album (that you can remember) that you saved up your hard earned money to purchase?
I remember buying like five cds all at once… haha… It was Weezer, Third Eye Blind, and Foo Fighters. The next three were Nirvana, Bright Eyes, and Feist.
What was the first song you fell in love with (that you can remember) and why?
“I loved the song “Slow Motion” by Third Eye Blind because it was so raw and fucked up, the topic was real though and I had seen and felt those stories before. Also, “Landlock Blues” by Bright Eyes. That song changed my life.”
Who is in your current playlist? What artists or bands are in current rotation for you?
Joseph (they are on my upcoming record, amazing three sister folk singers, their new record hits this fall and I actually went to middle school with them ha!), Calle 13, Anderson .Paak, Dead Prez, Raury, The Tallest Man On Earth, J Beebs (Justin Beiber) [ lol no joke ], Ellie Goulding, annnnnnnd The Eagles of course.
What’s on tap next for you, Nahko? What are you most excited about for this year?
I’m most excited for this record to drop and start changing lives! haha.
“I’m also working with a tribe in NorCal and putting together a ceremony ride that will pray for the return of their salmon. I’m adopting a mustang from the BLM next month and working with it all summer to take on this ride. We’re making a documentary about it with some award winning documentary folks. I’m pretty excited about that. Boom!”
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