“I’ve always played music, when I was a small little Bear, to a medium-sized little Bear, to a potentially full-grown little Bear…I’m still growing,” laughs Nahko Bear, leader of musical collective Nahko and Medicine For The People. “I was farming on the Big Island before my music picked up; I actually had four jobs and was playing on the side.” Nahko considers himself a reluctant leader; “We were just a bunch of gypsies jamming,” he recalls. “When I see where we are as a band now, how hard we’ve worked, the maturity and structure we’ve created, and that we have this really beautiful communication through our music, it’s just so special.”
The band will release a brand new album, Hoka, exploring a broad range of subject matter presented in genre-bending style, on June 10th via SideOneDummy Records. “It’s definitely a call to action,” he explains “Our last record was a personal look at dark and light, and this one is about charging forward and taking responsibility.”
One such treat from Hoka, lead single “San Quentin”, is proof that Nahko practices what he preaches. “So many things in life just happen synchronistically; my uncle emailed and told me that the man who killed my father was up for parole after 19 years, and asked me if I would go to the hearing and speak to keep him in jail. I was very interested in seeing this man, so I agreed to go. As I thought about going to the hearing, I was like ‘Am I actually even mad at this guy? I don’t think I am’,” recalls the singer. “Because of what he did, I learned a lot about forgiveness and letting go of the past; I came to the conclusion that I wasn’t angry, in fact, I decided to go there and tell him that. I’ve carried my dad with me for so long, and something was telling me that if I talked to the man, I would be able to release that.” He took a risk and traveled to the prison for a walk-in visit without an appointment. “By the grace of Spirit, I showed the lady at the desk my Hawaii driver’s license, and she commented that I had come a long way to get to the prison that day. She let me in, and I walked to the meeting area. I had no idea what I was going to say.”
Upon reaching his destination, he came face-to-face with the man, who had never had a single visitor in his 19 years of incarceration. “He was so calm and collected. I said ‘I came a long way to tell you this story. When I met my uncle, he told me that someone had shot and killed my father.’ When I said that, his whole countenance changed, and we both began to cry. He kept apologizing over and over, and he said ‘An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,’ just like what I wrote in the song, basically telling me that if he ever got out pf prison, that I could take his life. I told him I wasn’t going to do that,” Nahko says with a laugh. “I left the prison feeling like a weight had been lifted.”
After the rest of Nahko’s family learned of his prison visit, they were so moved by the story and by their own experience at the parole hearing, that they granted parole; the man was released and deported back to the Philippines. “He told me if he ever got out, he wanted to go back home and reconcile with his dying father, whom he had shamed by committing this crime. He also told me he wanted to take me fishing in his favorite spot. I mean, how crazy would it be to go fishing with the man who murdered my dad?” he says. “We’re going to the Philippines on tour, and I think I’m going to try to go find him.”
Nahko refers to being on the road as a “mission”—touring for Water Is Life, their last album, he called upon local organizers and activists to attend shows to speak about fracking and the importance of keeping our water clean. This time, they’ve dubbed the mission the “Make A Change Tour”—the band will be encouraging people to vote, and will be engaging more with the fans, asking them to share their own stories of change. “We want to get to know the Tribe a bit more,” says Nahko of their fan base. “I call them the Tribe because in my own desperate search for family, I realized that within the vagabond culture in which I was living, family is a big deal, having an ally that understands you. It made sense to name our fanbase the Tribe; we’re a family and each of us has a role to play.”
“There’s so much more to music than making records and touring. I want to do things in a unique way, and incite empowerment by using our platform to educate people, because music is a language that crosses all borders and brings people together,” he says. “I mean, what else can I do?”
Nahko and Medicine For The People are on tour, and will be playing at Mercy Lounge with Kim Churchill on April 28th! Get your tickets here.