It took a near-death experience for the band Nahko and Medicine to change their approach to music.
The band just released their new single "Lifeguard" from the forthcoming album Take Your Power Back. They'll perform at The Van Buren this Tuesday, November 12.
The song opens with an upbeat folksy tempo, yet contemplative lyrics: "I hold my breath, I hold my breath / For humanity's sake / For the way we hold the space / For every color, every race, or a political taste / I've my head above the water / I've my arms limp by my side. What a habit, what a waste to take, take, take."
Lead singer Nahko Bear discussed the song's inspiration for the song with Phoenix New Times.
"I was in Hawaii on the Big Island," he recalls. "My girlfriend at the time was a stellar athlete. I remember the day that we went out kayaking. I was like, 'Oh yeah, I got this.' It was raining and stormy out. My girlfriend has a really nice ocean kayak, and I had my janky lake kayak.
"I wasted all my energy getting through the break. When I hit the break, I totally get tossed out of my kayak. Five feet of water before you hit the reef. My arms were so tired and I was like, 'I can’t swim right now.' As I was trying to yell for help, I look to my left and there she is. I can’t believe I almost fucking drowned and my girl saved me. I was stoked."
The experience caused Bear to question the world around him. "That song took me about a year to finish because I was playing around with it for a long time. I spent a lot of time introspectively considering, 'What are humans, how do we interact, what are we here for?'”
Bear, who is of Puerto Rican, Filipino, and Apache descent, was adopted at birth into a Christian home in Portland, Oregon. His ultimate rejection of those conservative values and journey toward self-discovery factor heavily into the music he and Medicine for the People create today.
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"The narrative I was told wasn’t being lived. The inclusion wasn’t there. I love my adopted parents. My adopted mother is so accepting of me in this phase. We may have different opinions, but we can still break bread," says Bear. "But those elitist sort of ways were such a red flag to me. Of course, a number of people or churches don’t represent what their deity would want. In any religious practice, humans are so malleable when it comes to taking orders."
Never one to follow blindly, Bear and his bandmates, who have varied throughout the years, are active in many causes. Their work with Intertribal Youth provides scholarships for indigenous youth in academic and community enrichment programs, while their partnership with Amazon Watch seeks to defend the rainforest.
"Music is a powerful tool for reaching people outside of their mind and in their heart. To make it sustainable, you need to offer options for solutions. When people listen to our music, I think they feel a need and a desire to do more," explains Bear. "That’s how I feel when I play music: I can really do more than just this."
Nahko and Medicine for the People are scheduled to perform on Tuesday, November 12, at The Van Buren. Tickets are available via Ticketweb.