Music is his medicine. Turns out, it’s my medicine too. I wasn’t the
only one. The whole island felt it. The slight ripple on the surface
becoming a wave, ‘making the movement move’. It tastes all kinds
of sweet. A spoonful of Nahko.
It is the day after Nyepi* and ‘Nahko Bear’ is almost famous.
‘Medicine for the People’ – the band he fronts – is about to headline
the Bali spirit festival and offer up their healing sound to the island
of the Gods. Nahko will be talked about, booked, photographed,
facebooked, friended, lusted after and talked about some more…
and then booked out and sold out again and again. But he doesn’t
know any of this right now. Right now he just knows what he wants
– some good food and some honest lyrics. He heads to the CLEAR
cafe in Ubud, where I am also reaching for some words after an
insightful day of silence.
The way I first meet Nahko is, well, more than a little strange. Logging
into facebook for the first time in a couple of days I click on
a link a friend from Australia has sent me. Sipping on my kelapa
muda, I watch the music clip, headphones on, casually curious.
What appears before me: a tapping foot, shaved head (well, half of
it at least), overalls, earrings, guitar, in the back of an old pick up,
parked somewhere in Hawaii. A voice I wasn’t expecting. And a
sound I’d never heard before. He was bringing it, gentle and strong,
all at the same time. Suddenly he had my attention. And I was in.
This is the first time I’d heard of Nahko. The song was ‘Black as
the Night’. The first line of the song says it all. “I believe in the good
things coming, coming, coming …” Hell yes. I had no idea how true
those words would be. No idea of the swell, the set that he was
about to bring to these salty shores.
Somewhere between the licks and the poetry something dawns on
me: he is not entirely unattractive. The clear, dark eyes; bit of mis
there, that’s for sure. Kind of ripped. Let’s say defined, it’s more
polite. Some interesting tattoos. Skin painted with stories. Who is
this guy? I let out a sigh and flick my eye towards the door as some
comes in. I do a double take. Really look. Then look back at the
clip. Then look again. The tatts confirm it. They are the one and the
same. Nahko heads straight upstairs. Singlemindedly, you could say.
With focus. A man on a mission almost.
My focus goes straight to my pen. ‘Fuck the silver lining / My clouds
got rainbows’. Breakfast just got a whole lot more interesting.
I climb the stairs and give him the words. He is still anonymous
enough to find this quirky behaviour charming. He gives me the
word ‘synchronicity’ and the time – to his gig at Jazz Cafe in Ubud in
two days time. I go. And so it begins.
‘I believe in the good things coming…. come in come in come in.’
Nahko Bear is at that crossroads. Where the future is being pulled
into the present. Where the now is created by the past. Where
ancestors must be respected and youth educated. Nahko is a man
of the earth. A quarter Apache, a fourth Puerto Rican and the rest
Filipino. All native. He holds the weight of the world on the lightness
of his laugh. Ganesh definitely had something to do with this one.
His music – which he calls ‘spirited redemption music’ – talks of
cultural wounding, environmental wrongs and social injustice. And
then, in the blink of a third eye and the wink of a dimple, he talks
about change, about cures and what will be. His songs are woven
with beautiful echoes and glorious hope. Watching Nahko & Medicine
for the People play live is an experience not to be missed. The
beats compel you to join in the rhythm. Nahko ignites epiphanies in
the audience; dancing their way to sweaty transcendence. You get
addicted to his drug. It’s like aural serotonin. It creeps over your face
like a smile and makes you proud to be human.
Music is his medicine. Turns out, it’s my medicine too. Because
something changed within me while he was here, his music the
soundtrack in a way I can’t explain. I wasn’t the only one. The whole
island felt it. The slight ripple on the surface becoming a wave,
‘making the movement move’. It tastes all kinds of sweet. A spoonful
And we might not have to wait that long for the next dose. Word on
the jalan is that the ‘dark little cinnamon man’ is back in Bali to play
a gig somewhere green and lush on New Year’s Eve with someone
whose name rhymes with Psychael Shanti. You heard it here first.
Oh yeah. I believe in the good things coming, coming, coming ….
* Balinese day of silence