22 Jalan Kayu Aya
Seminyak, Bali.

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One to watch: Nahko & Medicine for the People

Category - Things We Like

Before Josh and I opened Sea Circus, when it was still a concept in a presentation, we had grand ideas of who we would like to play under the Big Top. Bernard Fanning, Donovan Frankenreiter & Xavier Rudd were high up on the list. Recently, we were lucky enough to have Xavier’s opening tour band – the sparklingly talented Nahko and Medicine for the People – play at the Circus.

{photo by Kevin Wrenn}

In March they headlined the Bali Spirit fest for the second year. This time 12 months ago Charlie wrote an article on Nahko for ‘Imag. Give it a gander then check out some of their music here

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. She thinks I might like it. She knows me pretty well. Sipping on my kelapa muda, I watch the video, headphones on, a smidgen of curiosity.

What appeared before me was 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. With a voice I wasn’t expecting. And a sound that 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. The epiphanies he would soon ignite in his  audience… dancing their way to sweaty transcendence.

Somewhere between the licks and the poetry something dawns on me: he is not entirely unattractive. The clear, dark eyes; bit of mischief there, that’s for sure. Kind of ripped. Let’s say defined, it’s more polite. Some interesting tattoos. Skin painted with stories that I haven’t yet heard. Who is this guy? I let out a sigh and flick my eye towards the door as someone 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 ‘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 ‘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. 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 of Nahko.

Turns out 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 on our salty shores 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 ….

Category - Things We Like