Nahko Bear: ‘In forgiving my father’s killer, I freed myself’

Nahko and Medicine for the People

Nahko and Medicine for the People - Credit: Archant

Nahko Bear found his mother on the internet, forgave his father’s murderer and became a musician with a message

Nahko Bear is one of those people who is unfailingly and infuriatingly positive.

He views the world from a spiritual and optimistic standpoint most of us can only dream of.

It shows in his music and manifests in the name of his band: Medicine for the People.

This is even more impressive, given the circumstances surrounding his birth.

Adopted as a baby by a white, middle class American family in the North West, he was unaware of his background for many years.

He left home as a teenager, hoping to discover more about himself.

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After finding his birth mother on the internet, he began to piece together the parts of his identity that were missing, finding that he’s of Puerto Rican, Filipino and Apache descent.

His mother was forced into human trafficking and his birth came as a result of a rape incident.

He learnt a few years later that his biological father had been murdered.

Undoubtedly the most striking element of the new album is ‘San Quentin’, a buoyant song that resulted from his paying a visit to his father’s killer in prison and forgiving him.

“I went there to forgive this man and in forgiving him, I freed myself,” he says.

“It only hurts yourself to hang onto hate. Forgiveness empowers you to create change. I believe everything happens for a reason ,­ good and bad.

“People are put in your life for a reason, and you need to turn that pain into something positive to make the world a better place.”

This approach has clearly been inherited from his mother, with whom he works as an advocate for the anti-trafficking movement of indigenous people.

Bear’s upbeat attitude towards life is reflected in the music he makes, drawing inspiration from a range of sources, including poet and politician, Pablo Neruda.

His song ‘Tus Pies (Your Feet)’ was in part inspired by one of his poems.

“It’s about friendship and being an anchor for someone,” he explains.

“At the end of one of his poems, Neruda says a line I cherish: ‘I love your feet for how they walked on the mountains and through the rivers and through the valleys until they found me.’

“I’ve always loved that picture of how we find people in life and all of the intricate twists and turns that it takes for someone to arrive.”

Despite the positive feel of HOKA, Nahko and Medicine for the People tackle some heavy subject matter in their songs, including social commentary on economics and the distribution of wealth and power.

“Hoka is a Lakota word. It is a call to action. My call is to put action to the words that I speak and the lyrics I sing.

“Not just to talk, but to do,” he says.

“I’ve come a long way to tell you this story. There’s no turning back now.” Never has a lyric rang as true as this.

Nahko and Medicine for the People are playing on August 10 at Koko on Camden High Street.