When I was younger while visiting my Cherokee uncle, Goat Carson, in New Orleans he always talked about how music was a form of prayer, a powerful kind of medicine. It shaped my understanding to recognize that there is something ancestral and powerful about music that is transformative. When I meet musicians who are aware of the responsibility to raise peoples spirits, celebrate life, and engage community, I almost always enjoy their music no matter what genre. It is no surprise that I am a fan of Nahko and Medicine for the People (NMFTP) as they embody this wisdom in person as well as through their sound, and lyrics.
I think our music promotes the bridging of all tribes. The lyrics and the stories and our energy as a group break down people’s walls. You’ll find us in the most unique places on earth because it’s real, raw, and honest storytelling about what we’ve been through and what we believe in. And that’s why people connect with it. I think that’s the most important thing you can do with music.” -Nahko Bear
Just as the polyrhythms of New Orleans music tells the story of Indians and Slaves coming together in unity, Nahko and Medicine for the People bring the ancestral wisdom of the Hawaiian Islands, through song. The islands are exploding with vibrant, colourful life adorned with flowers, tropical fruits, lush beaches, waterfalls, and canyons. This feeling and the Aloha way of life radiates through their music.
Aloha is derived from Polynesian roots and is associated with sharing the essence of life, breath, affection, peace, compassion and love. A culture this rich needs to be shared with the world as we are all yearning for stories that bring mutual respect, healing and peace. Though there are many phenomenal traditional Hawaiian musicians, few travel beyond the islands openly sharing this inherent wisdom. I could be in any location listening to NMFTP, and if I close my eyes I will feel as if I’m letting a waterfall pour over me somewhere in paradise. Indeed every single part of our planet is paradise if we treat it that way.
Kuleana is a Hawaiian word that means “responsibility” and is often associated with honouring the land or the ancestors and living in a sacred way. Project Kuleana was created by three Native Hawaiian men who share the perspective that kuleana is what makes music Hawaiian. A kuleana to the ‘āina (land) and our strong ancestral connection to it. From a cross-cultural perspective true musicians understand this everywhere but may have different terms to describe it.
I am always impressed with musicians who are outspoken about issues of justice, or who speak openly in regards to their love for the land. Bonnie Raitt has spoken out against fracking that is polluting our waters. Neil Young is a true hero with his support of native issues, honoring treaties, and his stance against GMO’s. Tab Benoit and Voice of the Wetlands with Cyril Neville have also brought much needed awareness to the importance of coastal wetlands. There are many others, and each of them deserves a tip of the hat for giving us great music and holding a strong public stance about issues that matter to us all.
One of the most critical environmental issues of our time is banning Fracking everywhere because it destroys our Water, our communities and our planet” – Bonnie Raitt
Medicine for the People includes Dustin Thomas who is an exceptional song-writer, beat-boxer, guitarist and vocalist whose hair is almost as big as his heart. Keeping a healthy feminine balance to the band is Hope Medford on djembe. Justin Chittams, with a background in marine biology, plays drums. Chase Makai, originally from Australia, brings the free-spirited vibes of surfing and skate boarding to the band through his dynamic 12-string guitar. Nahko, a down-to-earth, sweet and humble person is quick to laugh and embrace new friends. His past has taught him the power of forgiveness and he embodies a true spirit of kindness, making him a perfect emissary for the Aloha spirit. His song-writing, guitar, and piano skills blend all of these energies into a beautifully warm and inspiring expression. When he’s not playing music, you are likely to find him in the garden or helping out at Vetiver Solutions in Hilo. Take a look at this great documentary about him here.
If you are needing to lighten the load and refresh your spirit with a passion for life, I highly recommend checking out Nahko and Medicine for the People. Though I have seen them live many times, I was first introduced to them in the video above. The footage is as inspiring as the music, and this YouTube masterpiece has been seen by over 3 million people. Let this inspiration carry around the world as people begin to awaken their hearts through the power and medicine of music.