Nahko Bear fronts the band Nahko and Medicine for the People, who are known for their blend of world music and modern sensibilities. It’s a style infused with roots music and rooted in Nahko’s unconventional life story.
“It’s actually about much more of a sort of… I don’t want to say too simplistic manner, but most of my fans aren’t really accustomed to me talking about love songs. Yeah, there’s been some love songs but it hasn’t been focused on that. It’s been focused on a much different version of storytelling, right?”
He is currently touring in support of his solo album My Name is Bear, with the full band performing.
“This specifically for us,” he says of the upcoming dates. “It’s about getting to come to some of the areas that we weren’t able to reach on our fall tour. We weren’t able to get to Florida at all. I’m stoked to bring the show there. We have had a great fan base there and always a good turnout. Always a good vibe.”
Nahko calls My Name Is Bear a collection of early songs—songs that pre-date the band and pre-date much of his personal journey. “Getting to tell these stories of who I was from the perspective of who I am now is a pretty special and kind of trippy experience.
Previously released material has featured his identity search. “I spent a lot of time after I met my birth mother writing our records—the band records,” he says. “(This) is actually a collection of songs that were written before that monumental, life-changing time.”
Nahko was adopted at a young age, raised by conservative, white, and well-off parents. As a teenager, he felt the pull of music. At 21, he found his birth mother, from whom he gained a better understanding of his Apache, Puerto Rican, and Filipino roots. He also learned his mother’s story—she was sex trafficked at the hands of her own mother at age 13, which led to Nahko’s birth when she was 14.
“It’s a developing thing,” Nahko says of a potential nonprofit focused on sex trafficking issues. “I think as my mom and I dive into our own healing together—as we develop our understanding of how we can help the rest of the world through our story— that, yeah, I would have more to share on that level. There is something in motion, I’m not even sure what it is, necessarily—I just know that it’s happening.”
From sponsoring the annual Run4Salmon event (that includes a two-week trek while raising money towards the restoration of Chinook salmon along the Pacific coast) to the Nahko Scholarship (helping disadvantaged indigenous youth attend the InterTribal Youth cultural summer camps to political campaigning), Nahko stays busy.
When it comes to Nahko’s music and general outlook, one particular comparison recurs on the Internet, but he is quick to laugh it off. “Anybody who enjoys being compared to Bob Marley has got to be insane. I got enough of my own baggage to carry around. Jesus, I don’t want to live up to that.”
Even with a packed tour schedule and a new Nahko and Medicine for the People album in the works, the artist has his eye on some big goals. “I think that what excites me most (is) getting back on some level of the political game where we can assist state-tostate efforts to get young people voting and excited about taking back the government in that sense.
“I think that there’s great potential, and it’s fun. I think bringing some fun to it again is really important, and showing how young people are doing incredible things in their cities.”
Nahko and Medicine for the People perform at Vinyl Music Hall in Pensacola March 15. Discover more at Nahko.com.