Nahko & Medicine for the People tour Hawaii
BY ELIZABETH KIESZKOWSKI / email@example.com
Listen to his music and you’ll know Nahko, frontman of Nahko & Medicine for the People, brims with opinions. He was laid back, though, during a phone call in between gigs in Florida, listening in as bandmate Hope Medford explained what they had been up to — until I asked what they’d been learning from fans across the country.
NAHKO & MEDICINE FOR THE PEOPLE
With local openers Paula Fuga and Mike Love
» Where: The Republik, 1349 Kapiolani Blvd.
“People are definitely getting bored with robotic, boring music!” he suddenly erupted, flashing a glimmer of his declarative power on stage.
Nahko’s music feels like that — it’s a gush of pulsating, emotionally searing and personally revealing storytelling, colored with exhortations for change and intensified with open-hearted energy.
It definitely won’t bore you, though it might disrupt the expectations of people unfamiliar with his blend of earnest songcraft, rock and hip-hop lyricism.
The band, with ties to Hawaii and American roots, in the deepest sense of the word, arrives at The Republik on Saturday.
MEDICINE for the People was about to play a gig in Tallahassee, Fla., on Oct. 29, the day Nahko and Medford talked to the Star-Advertiser. They were nearing the end of a U.S. tour with SoJah, traveling by van.
One part of the country or the other was passing familiar to either Nahko, born in Portland, Ore., or Medford, who’s from Kentucky and contributes percussion including cajon (box drum) and African djembe. Guitarist Chase Makai O’Friel, an Australian who now calls Hilo home, rounds out the core group.
On tour, the band was forging connections, supporting environmental and native causes, as might be expected from Medicine for the People lyrics like, “In this existence I’ll stay persistent and I’ll make a difference and I will have lived it.”
The line comes from “Aloha Ke Akua,” the lead song on the band’s new album, “Dark as Night” — music penned on the Big Island, where Nahko now lives when not on tour.
The emphasis on righteous living and social change is intrinsic to the band. Nahko and band members routinely contribute to environmental and native causes, and participate in “transformative” festivals with a similar mindset.
“We have a general respect for life of the land,” Medford said.
“We’ve really worked at becoming the name that we’ve taken on,” Nahko said.
Nahko gets his high-spirited sense that the past needs healing by way of a troubled family legacy. Born to parents of Apache, Puerto Rican and Filipino ethnicities, he was adopted by a Caucasian family. Song lyrics describe parents scarred by violence and poverty of opportunity, and an upbringing altered by cultural confusion.
They also make explicit the goal: “I remember. I forgive,” he sings, in “On the Verge.”
“ON THE VERGE,” a musical portrait of a young man in flux, is a good calling card for Nahko’s music. With the lyrics rapidly flowing, the song begins as an understated acoustic strum and builds continuous pressure, by turns driving, orchestral and electric.
“I’m hungry and I’m ready to fight,” Nahko sings, near a climax of the four-minute song, then goes on to acknowledge, “I feel like I’m changing every day.”
The song reaches a second peak as Nahko and Medford trade vocals over an incantation: “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”
As with most every other Nahko song, the underlying theme is that self-knowledge is power, and that change begins within.
IN RECENT MONTHS, Nahko and the band have been away from Hawaii, with a busy touring schedule that’s taken him across Australia (with Xavier Rudd, recent headliner in Honolulu at Hallowbaloo) as well as the U.S.
When at home, he lives up Hamakua way, on a farm where he grows vetiver with a partner. But after a series of Hawaii shows, he’s moving on again, to Indonesia with musician Trevor Dunn.
Before his music took off on a national level, Nahko said he regularly performed in kava shops and coffeehouses, in Honolulu and on Hawaii island, and he has a musical ohana here that includes Paula Fuga, Mike Love and “all the boys in The Green.”
When he returns, Hawaii is likely to again inspire Nahko’s music.
“To be able to encompass a language and promote aloha, wherever we go, reflects the many things Hawaii has taught me,” Nahko said. “It’s a tribute to the lessons and the wisdom and the growth that I’ve attained on the islands.”