Thursday night, Portland, Ore.’s Nahko and Medicine for the People brought their “musical medicine” to Little Rock’s Revolution Music Room, a fitting venue for the socially-conscious music collective. Their uplifting medley of folk, urban and world music, as well as their hypnotizing videos, have enchanted activist-minded music fans across the world in the relatively short time they have been creating music together.
A new staple in the festival circuit, Nahko and Medicine for the People weave their activism seamlessly into their sound, with a lyrical subject matter ranging from responsible stewardship of the Earth and the importance of a strong community committed to spiritual awakening and the importance of spreading a message of love and harmony with all living creatures. Group leader Nahko Bear once said, “Medicine for the People is, I guess I would say it’s less a band and more a social movement.” And he isn’t kidding. Spending a good portion of his time volunteering with various activist organizations such as the climate change awareness group 350.org and promoting organic, sustainable farming as a co-owner of an off the grid farm in Hawaii, this isn’t your typical new age feel-goodery band that talks a good game, but turns a blind eye to luxurious excess once their feet leave the stage. Nahko and MFTP are the rare breed of musicians who actually bridge their message with their actions. I, for one, couldn’t have been any more excited to see them live.
Dustin Thomas, affectionately referred to as “Little Buffalo” by the group, opened the show, blowing the audience away with a varied musical mix of beat-box and soul folk. While his beat-boxing was a welcome surprise, it was his soaring acoustic ballads and passionate monologues touching on topics like hydraulic fracking and protecting the Natural State’s precious waters and ecosystems that drew the largest accolades from the packed venue. Emphasizing the importance of conscious political and social activism, Thomas encouraged audience members to open their eyes a little wider and become active participants in this crazy, beautiful world we all live in in lieu of blissful ignorance, apathetic to the corruption and pollution that contaminates our minds, bodies, and souls. As he wrapped up his inspirational opening set, Thomas encouraged all present to become “a part of the revolution,” and walked off the stage to a roaring applause fit for a headlining act. Gazing upward at the never-more-fitting “Revolution” backdrop, you could feel the anticipation and energy that permeated the already excitable crowd, ready for Round 2 to begin.
I would be lying if I said I didn’t have goosebumps.
Shortly thereafter, Nahko and his backing group, Medicine for the People took the stage, along with collaborator Dustin Thomas— finding himself ardently welcomed back from the thrilled crowd. People all around turned to their friends and loved ones, their facial expressions exempting verbal communication from necessity. “I can’t believe we are here and this is happening” was the general theme of the exchange. To describe the atmosphere most succinctly at that moment, I only require two words: Good vibrations. They were everywhere. This palpable excitement was answered with a host of fan favorites, including “Black as Night,” “Budding Trees,” “Manifesto II,” and two of my favorites— “Warrior People” and, perhaps the most lyrically-poignant of the night, “My Country.” A play on “America (My Country, ’Tis of Thee),” the stirring ballad carries a seriously somber tone throughout, yet also showcases astonishing vocals that manage to stir an insuppressible urge to cry out in agony over the injustice that plagues a global community of oppressed and impoverished at the expense of the few and, in turn, speak truth to power to all who will listen. It is quite an experience, and with lyrics like these, who could blame us?
My country ’tis of thee
sweet land of poverty
for thee I weep.
Land where my mother cried
land where my father died
sweet land of genocide
pride of my heart.
My country ’tis of thee
sweet land of industry
we’ll break your back.
Clean out your minerals
fill you with chemicals
we kill for what is profitable
oh, concrete world.
It was a beautiful night, full of beautiful music and beautiful people. If you missed it, I am truly sorry. Try to make it out next time they come to town – it will be and experience you won’t soon forget.
For more information and a closer look at the group’s fan community, “The Tribe,” head on over to http://nahko.com/community/.