Issue 05 Review: Find Your Medicine And Use It

Find Your Medicine And Use It

Nahko and Medicine for the People: A band with music so sunny it could change your outlook

Review by Jorge Kryzyzaniak

Last year, I couldn’t make it to the Mountain Jam Festival, at Hunter Mountain in New York. But I also couldn’t miss out on hearing some of my favorite bands perform, so I faithfully tuned in to XM radio to listen to as much as I could. One day, happily leaving work, I tuned in just in time to catch the end of a set from a band I’d never heard of before. Goosebumps rose over my body instantly as the voice sunk into me, and the refrain to “Manifesto” came again and again — slowly and with no musical accompaniment. It was a resounding message, led by a single voice, and then picked up by a crowd of thousands so moved that they refused to stop repeating it. The music filled the entire space within my car and I felt like I was there, rocking back and forth in a crowd of a few thousand friends, raising our voices and our energy back toward this band that had instantly summed up the philosophy we were going to need to navigate the time we’re living in. The words were at once seared into my memory, and I rushed home to type them into my magical internet machine. From its speakers, the words came once more:

Don’t waste your hate,
Rather gather and create.
Be of service. Be a sensible person.
Use your words and don’t be nervous.
You can do this, you’ve got purpose.
Find your medicine and use it.

I’ve been suggesting music in The New Territory for a year, and I like to think I haven’t steered you wrong yet. So, this time, I’m making a departure from my usual review writing. Trust me as we head off in this new direction together. I’m not writing about musicians in your hometown, or a wunderkind you might find strumming a banjolele in your local deli. I’m not even going to tell you about a band from the Midwest. Instead, I’m going to tell you about a seven-piece, world-traveling band from Oregon that’s going to become important to the Midwest this year. And because I feel like I already know you, I think you’re going to like them.

The band behind “Manifesto” is Nahko and Medicine for the People, and they’re about to become your favorite band. Their music is going to remind you of how you’re supposed to feel inside. And tomorrow, you’re going to feel a little better.

Those first words I heard from Nahko’s “Manifesto” have been important to me, and I think, right now, you could probably use them too. They’re words that have sunk in with my five-year-old son, and when I hear him singing them, I feel proud and hopeful for the future. These days, we don’t often get to feel this way.
And in music, we’re bombarded with mechanical tracks, or lyrics wherein musicians brag about their status as money-makers and lovers, or we’re trying to relate to the woes of singers dissatisfied with life, love, and themselves. And that’s fine — it is important to remember we aren’t alone in these bits of the human experience. But there’s more in this life that’s good. This year, I want all of you to feel good, and to radiate to everyone you meet that such goodness is possible.

Here’s music that delivers the social consciousness of Ben Harper or Michael Franti but with the most positive self-reflection towards the topics. Frontman Nahko Bear is upfront with himself about his shortcomings, but he sings as much about forgiving himself as he does about forgiving others. He inspires his listeners — and himself — to be aggressive about moving forward. With his lyrics, he asks if we’re doing enough to be the best possible contribution to the earth and to the rest of the human race. Then, Nahko and the band put their energy behind legitimate causes and actually create some change. They’re using what fame they’ve already garnered to raise awareness and support for organizations they believe in — groups that support Native American rights, mindful environmental stewardship, and music education.
And while the messages of the music are important, the songs themselves aren’t overwrought — they’re downright fun. Nahko Bear drives many of his rhythms with his acoustic guitar, similar to G. Love, Jack Johnson, or Dave Matthews. The rest of the band, Medicine for the People, moves us with bass lines and horn jams funky enough to make booties shake. Beats alternate between smooth and rowdy, making you bounce along to percussion heavily influenced by tribal music. And even as we dance joyfully, Chase Makai’s 12-string acoustic and Tim Snider’s violin soothe our souls.

Nahko considers himself a world citizen, and the influence of his travels stands out in his music. His style visits upon the complexities of his heritage. Musically and lyrically, there is this clear homage to his roots that reach into a bloodline that’s part Apache, part Puerto Rican, and part Filipino. The influences of Hawaii, where he’s lived and has a farm, run deep. His lyrics move through beautiful juxtapositions; between quick delivery and slow melody, or between soft reflection and aggressive vows of self-development or forgiveness. His tongue moves fast, and he drops brilliant, rapid-fire rhyme schemes between measures of smooth, slow melodies.

In mere seconds, Nahko delivers the lines of “Make a Change” with an incendiary cadence. In that time I prioritize and point myself toward making changes of my own.

The clock is tickin’, I can hear it through the static
Now I’m not being dramatic, enemies don’t sleep
In fact some aren’t human and that’s hard to believe
‘Cause I’m such a visual person, my third eye don’t lie
He’s a wise guy inside, even fooled himself twice
Thinking maybe I’m not ready to be leading the way
I mean, fuck, I’m only human, bound to make some mistakes
An earthquake took place within my lifetime of fear
I hear this too shall pass, the beginning is near.

It’s sunny music. You may have to prepare your mind for joy and positivity before delving into it because generally, we’re busy and we’re isolated from each other and from everything real. We just aren’t used to feeling good anymore. In the digital age, we need something more tactile. We’ve cultivated too much stress through the screens of our TVs, computers, and smart phones.

Like many in the midwest, you probably celebrate a personal tie to the land you’re on. It’s okay that in the middle of the day, when you’re in your office, all you want to do is kick off your shoes and walk in real dirt and feel warm sunshine on your skin, or you want to be out with your friends, laughing and loving. And that’s how I know Nahko and Medicine for the People is going to resonate with you deeply in much the same way.

It’s more than just feel-good music for the sake of feel-good music. It feels good because it is the sound of coming together with the earth, with history, and with the people around you.
When Nahko and Medicine for the People come around on tour, go see them. They’re going to hit you with “Dark of Night,” and you’re going to grab onto the hips of your significant other and sway to its rhythm at dusk on a lush lawn at some beautiful outdoor venue on an exquisite Midwestern night. And you’re going to remember this review, and you’re going to say, “Jorge was right.”

Subscribe to The New Territory, Purchase Issue 05 here, or pre-order issue 08 here.

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