story and photos Dawn Cosnotti Morris © 2016
This story took a long ass time. I was lost at Okeechobee (literally, not figuratively), and I wandered past a stage that literally had energy pouring off it in waves. The band, unknown to me at the time, had truly mesmerized a crowd. I snapped a couple of shots from amongst the masses and moved on. I met a vendor there, she had a lovely daughter she wanted to introduce me to but our paths never crossed. Six weeks go by and I am in Gulf Shores. The only Starbucks for miles is in a Target. In a creepy, non-stalker (swear) way, I see the missing daughter (as mom and I are now IG buddies). The daughter came as a guest of the unknown band. So now my vibe lovin’ universe trusting self-kicks in (coffee helps) and I recognize serendipity when it smacks me in a super store in Alabama. Daughter asks if I will shoot the band. I say I will be so far away, and sand jogging with 17 lbs. of gear is not my favorite workout so I would probably miss them again. I didn’t. The stars aligned, the crowds parted and I took a shortcut through VIP. When I landed in the pit the band I now know as Nahko and Medicine for the People is 1 song in and I am hooked. I do my bit then I actually stay to listen, a rare occurrence. It’s more than the sound, which is sort of genre bending. It’s more than singer Nahko Bear’s awesomely unique tone. It’s more than seeing hordes of clearly devoted followers. I had to piece it together. It was the message. The gentlemen had a story to tell, causes to advocate, a message to send. I went back to my room that night and my old friend Google had some crazy things to say. Social media showed fans who were not band worshipping but rather thankful for comfort and direction. I’m not going to review the music here- you need to go listen (www.nahko.com). I am not going to begin to list the endless causes that are fueled by Nahko’s passion, check them out here http://nahko.com/causes/.
The band’s 3rd (but first label-backed) album drops June 10. I sent a quick note to a publicist and days later finally got to hear what went on behind those words. She said Nahko had 30 minutes; almost an hour later I had to go but knew I had something I needed to share. So what you get here is a crazy, sad, inspiring and amazing story. A big fat smack upside the head sort of reminder that you control your outcome, sometimes your gift finds you, and music is truly a vehicle.
Without trying to quote Nahko (I ditched the notes early on as what he had to say was so compelling) I will try and share Nahko’s story. He was born 30 years ago to a 14 year old prostitute. When he was 9 months old a very strict Baptist family in Oregon adopted him as they felt raising him was God’s work. Home schooled with a heavy dose of the bible every day, Nahko found solace on the bench of a piano at age 6. Raised on the only classics permitted in his adoptive home, he was a self taught but completely unaware musician. By 16 he was teaching music to other children and at some point even became a community theater director. By 17 he rebelled and was thrown out of his home. Drugs and debauchery logically followed. By 18 he had travelled to Alaska and worked his way into a dinner theater. Enamored with Kerouac, and possessing a nomadic soul, he bounced around the country, just beginning to realize his true musical talents. He got local gigs, he got what was big money to him, smoked a j with some old dude and bought his van. He took his first ever road trip to Cali. He went to Louisiana and lived in a house with 12 people. It was about then the money ran out and the inspiration ran dry. Nahko took a bus to Portland for a job washing dishes. He was Alaska bound but woke up in Canada. He hitched 2,000 miles in 3 days for a job as a cook. While the tale read like a whacked out novel, the highs and lows are not as predictable as one would think., Times were not all bad for Nahko. He discovered a deep love for and connection to nature. He travelled to Hawaii for work trade. Farming there gave Nahko a work ethic; made him what he considers a Man’s Man. Going into the wild allowed room for expansion on ideas about God. Like many on this sort of quest, Nahko wound up at Burning Man. It was there he left early and boarded a plane with no particular goal in mind. The woman in the seat next to him asked where he was headed and he blurted out that he was going to find his birth mother. The moment the words left Nahko’s lips he knew them to be true. A complete stranger validated his journey’s mission. Nahko knew everything about the people who raised him went against his own grain; he wanted to know where he came from. There were keys to finding the young woman, for she had written letter after letter to the child she had to give up. His adoptive family held them until he was 18. The letters were written in 14 year old script and verbage , with the girl closing every letter with I am sorry, please don’t hate me. Signing with her social security number so she could one day be found. And she was. Less than 20 miles from the adoptive home Nahko grew up in he found an address for the woman who gave birth to him. When he went there she had moved out just a number of weeks before. He got her number. He called. She hung up. He called again. Once she was assured it was truly her first born, Nahko met his family. A hole he never knew existed in his heart was now filled. She welcomed her child, despite not being born out of love, with open arms. Nahko had siblings, he had identity, he had cultural heritage. Part of the new found family was a grandmother. It was she who prostituted a young woman. Nahko defends her. She was only doing what she knew, doing what had been done for generations before. It turns out he is Native American, and Puerto Rican, and Philipino. A home was filled with languages he did not yet speak, but a family was complete. All less than 10 blocks from the home he grew up in. Nahko was a changed man. He is not uncomfortable telling his life story nor does he use it to garner attention. In fact, attention seems far from his mind. He and a friend bought some acreage in Hawaii a number of years ago and farm there. They are building a compound of their own, a retreat from the rest of the world-off the grid. That would be an amazing enough ending but it was only another beginning. Nahko and Medicine for the People were formed in 2012. A grassroots campaign began. Social media garnered the band a very organic and loyal following. The first two albums were recorded and distributed by the members themselves. A fan used their music and set it to purchased video footage. Someone sent Nahko a link, he thought it was pretty and was happy for the 5 views it had gotten. The video (see here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YsgP8LkEopM ) went viral. Four years later he is still curious about the future and considers himself a newbie in the music industry, but he has clearly found his calling as well as his call to action. He has strong political views; deep concerns about climate change, and involvement in social and environmental movements. Nahko is learning the protocol for direct action but is also putting his music behind it. He wants his music as well as his actions to shift the paradigm; he really just wants people to “wake the fuck up”. Nahko’s life story defines his music. He hopes his transparency allows people to relate in a deeper way, that the vulnerability of sharing will create closeness and courage. Nahko’s music is filled with calls to action, vulnerability, and inspiration. He put all of his deep dark secrets out for the world to see and hear. His sincere hope is his sharing will enable others not to hide.