08 Jan Nahko Bear
Photo: Josué Rivas
Nahko Bear burst into fame a few years ago when his song ‘Aloha Ke Akua’ went viral on the internet and hit millions of views in just a few weeks. Of Apache, Puerto Rican and Filipino descent, Nahko’s music and powerful lyrics inspired from his personal life have captivated millions of fans around the world. The message is straightforward and raw – LOVE – from his songwriting to the circumstances of his birth rooted in an act of violence, to forgiving the unforgivable, or recalling his journey of self discovery into the path of love and compassion, ‘Nahko and Medicine for the People’, are the remedy we were longing for and a light of hope to inspire a generation seeking for its bearings. A moving conversation with a young man who is undoubtedly wise beyond his years, whose understanding of love and of what it takes to be human is just remarkable.
By Victoria Adelaide | JAN 08. 2018
Victoria Adelaide: “My Name is Bear” is your fourth album and the first in which you introduce yourself using your name and with your picture on the cover. Is that a reflection of the current journey you are on, with its evolution, transformation, finding your own identity as a human?
Nahko Bear: Yes, I guess I would say that. I’m still searching, I had so much to learn about myself, about the identity that I wrapped around myself these past 10 years. I think we spend a lot of our time in our childhood and well into our puberty years focusing on the optical illusion of the self, the identity we have wrapped ourselves in. It’s almost as if we spend our adult years unwrapping our identity, identifying the ego and thinking, ‘Oh wow, I am actually like none of the stuff that I told myself I was’. So it’s such a funny life experiment, especially considering music, the stories and the narrative we tell ourselves. So with this record, in coming of age, and having witnessed all of this 10 years ago, I’m far more capable now to tell those stories, because I’ve sat with them for so long. I developed my mind, my heart, my spirit, all the things I’ve developed over the last 10 years and this has allowed me to tell these stories in a more genuine and authentic way. With no claim to the fact that I’m finished evolving obviously, it’s more just like putting my foot down to say, ‘This is me, this is my name, this is who I am’, this is part of a story, a back story for pre-existing fans. You know, it’s helpful, how I got to where I am now, as far as the writing goes. And in the meantime it’s something you can listen to without actually even needing to know the pre-existing story in fact, because there is such a calm, a collective and a gentler approach to channel the music. It is bold in so many ways for me, just putting myself out there a little like that, putting myself on the cover for the first time, self-producing it, doing all these things. I’ve always been a ‘Do it yourself’ kind of person, so this is just a reflection of another part of me.
VA: So you must really have had many songs in stock then?
NB: Any musician will tell you that, as they are making records, there are so many songs that are left behind and I guess now that that much time has passed, it was appropriate to take the time to collect those old songs and give them light.
VA: Have you got a guru to guide you in the kind of spirituality you have developed over the years?
NB: No. I mean, when I was a kid, I didn’t have any spiritual teacher that I looked up to, I was just in a different world. So when I got older, I was into Jesus and things like that. I mean even in my teen years, when I was still home, I just did the church thing ‘cause I had to. I was not forced to, but that’s the way it was, when you are still living at home, being home schooled, and your parents are conservative, you just do it. And then when I left, the texts that arrived in my hands were readings of authors like Jack Kerouac, Ram Dass, Eckhart Tolle and later on in my early twenties Lao Tzu, and this is what I’ve followed. There are just certain texts that would come true at certain times that really helped develop my conscious mind.
VA: “Aloha Ke Akua” became a hit in 2012, after a fan made a video that turned viral. How did you manage this overnight success and remain grounded?
NB: Well, by the time ‘Aloha Ke Akua’ went viral, when the video first hit, I had just finished making a music video of my own called ‘Me and Mr Washington’, and I spent most of the summer during my drive around the country making that video. It was actually the same year that I decided to move off the island, just to roam free and I didn’t know where I was going to go yet, but I had my van and I was with some friends. It was summer and I hadn’t decided if I was to go back to Hawaii in the winter. So I was always thinking of making the decision to move on in the sense of just committing to the music and stop farming. I remember when somebody posted the video on my page and said, ‘Hey look at this Aloha Ke Akua video, somebody made it, a fan made it’. And I thought, ‘Oh that’s cute’ (laughs). And I didn’t watch it for 3 or 4 days, because I was making sure the other video I made was getting traction. So by the time I looked at it, I had about 50 views, I cried, I watched and I cried, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s so beautiful’, you know, I just felt like everyone else I guess, because it just fit the song so perfectly. After that, within a couple of weeks it reached thousands of views, and within a couple of months, it reached the million. So, I just kept watching it grow, it didn’t really change anything else, I just thought it was quite remarkable, that I was receiving messages from people around the world saying that they discovered the song and that it was just really moving for them. That was like a calling card I guess you could say to the rest of the world, and think it was also a piece of a puzzle; it was just one part of what was happening for me at the time. It was very inspiring to see it travel like that, just mesmerising to see the music travel so far. It was just an extra piece there, it was an incredible piece that was added to the whole puzzle.
VA: You carry a strong message. Your aim is to inspire humanity to create a better world. Are you not afraid of the great expectations that may come along with it?
NB: Sure. I think that for a kid, when I was in my twenties to put out something so intense, yes, there is a lot of responsibility to it. People unfortunately also put a lot of bullshit on me, you know (laughs). People expect me to be perfect. Literally, like the other day on Facebook, I was following a link to an apparent thread that was like over a thousand comments about how much people hated me, haha, and about how much, like a lot of haters, you know, whether it was from one spectrum or the other of content basically, throwing down my character, at my music, what I’ve done, to false stories about me and this whole thing, and so, it was a little bit heartbreaking, but I also know I don’t need to be attached to that perspective or that frequency really. Because I know I’m on my journey, that’s just one part of it, you are going to stir the pot, when you stir the pot, and I have stirred the pot, you’re going to get haters. Because not everyone is ready to hear what you have to say, not everyone is ready to be in that sort of cosmic energy that receives rather than pushing away. But yeah, it’s incredible the way we idolize people in this hero complex. As humans we really do look to leaders obviously, and that’s a complex in itself, but all my great teachers have always said that the King of Heaven exists in the inner world, and that the earth, the body and the outer manifestation are just a reflexion of what’s inside. I think there’s a greater majority of people who are coming into that higher consciousness but it’s certainly taxing and slow when you know as I, a young person looking at my generation and thinking, ok I travel the world and check the pulse of the nation and check the pulse of different parts of the world to see how people are, and it’s funny to quantify a crowd for example, in terms of understanding how many people are open to hear. I think it’s interesting, it’s hard to be held under such a microscope, but I do respect the microscope. I try to be as open and vulnerable with who I am in my life as possible, but I also know that I have to keep things private too because people are fucking crazy. I want my relationship with my fans and also the tribe in the world to be close, because I know that my open-heartedness, my closeness is what helps people also become a reflection of that. But you have to learn how to guard yourself as well.
VA: How has being able to forgive (yourself or others) transformed you as a man?
NB: Well, it’s interesting though, what I’ve been realizing recently is that the last decade of my life has seemingly been about forgiving other people, learning to put down whatever weight I carry in my ego that wants to feel hurt or feel disrespected or wronged or pained. As you know there is some pretty serious stuff I shared about my story, some pretty serious stuff to move through and I think that trauma, as we know, arises at different times in our lives and often comes back around from different levels of its facets, so you have to be reconciled again and again from different sides within them. I think somehow even though I never went to school for this or took classes on any kind of psychological understanding or how people operate, or how injustice on an indigenous scale affects people, I had no real knowledge of how the world worked at that time, so I just followed my intuition with some of the things that I did. I think it really taught me to listen to myself, to listen to my higher self, to know where to go I guess. Because I look back, and I think to myself, ‘How did I end up finding my mom? How did I end up doing that stuff?’, and then facing whatever fears I had with it, whatever places I needed to forgive people for what they’ve done to me or to my family. And so now, I’m at this junction where I’ve realized, I’ve spent so much time forgiving and transforming from it, because of the action of doing, because of seeing it, doing it and breathing. So then now I’m like, well, I haven’t spent anytime forgiving myself. So I feel like I’m going into this whole new chapter of forgiving myself for things that I’ve done. Forgiving myself for the time it has taken me to get to where I’m at in the evolution of my consciousness. I’ve not done anything wrong per se as far as the ego is concerned but it’s the outward actions that seems to be need to be reconciled as well as the inner child. It’s a lot of work being a human, geez!
Photos: Josué Rivas.
VA: Your have a mixed background, Apache, Puerto Rican, Filipino, and you were raised in a white American family. How was it to relate to people from these origins while having been raised in a very different background?
NB: Well, I guess, to wrap it in the most simple format, the most ironic thing is that I spent a lot of time after I met my mom traveling around, to those Reservations and visiting Native people, connecting, looking for some kind of validation I guess. And basically, it wasn’t until much later that I found Winona Laduke, my auntie from the Anishinabe Ojibwe tribe. And she was the first person to take me in. Now I’ve been on the board of ‘Honor the Earth’ (www.honorearth.org) for the last 5 years. What I realized is that by the time I met her, I had put down the idea that I needed to be validated, that I needed a community, so that’s when she came to me. At that moment I just realized I didn’t need to prove to anybody that I was an Indian, I just needed to show up and be a part of the indigenous community. And that is when things started to turn around.
VA: So what is your involvement in this organization?
NB: For ‘Honor the Earth’, I help organize music events and I also participate in fundraising actions, like the horse back ride tour we do every summer; I help with actions in Minnesota when I’m there.
VA: So you are on tour until the end of March?
NB: I’m having a break right now then I am on tour until the end of March, yeah.
VA: What do you want people to take away from your show?
NB: I hope for an openness, but you know, you never know what people are going through, so we hope that something strikes a chord with them. I hope they feel that they can continue what we created with our music, and see it as a safe place to have an experience. Whatever their experience is, ultimately it is their own to have and people really love sharing their transformation stories, but some people just want to come and party, dance forever and feel the good vibe while some people are really going through hard things and they literally need it and call it their medicine. So I think all music can be perceived in such a way. Yes, so I hope people walk away with whatever it is, I hope they have an experience, go back home and are able to share that experience with others and have it become a part of their daily life.
VA: How do you measure the impact of what you are doing?
NB: I don’t know if I measure it per se. I think it’s consistently surprising me how many people have heard of us. You know, we travel randomly around the world, we find different places and people that have heard of us and have been moved by the music. So I guess I’d just measure it based on the stories that I’m told, or maybe not even that, maybe I’m measuring how much I’m transforming myself, and maybe I’m not so concerned about everyone else, I just do my thing (laughs). I think there are probably 2 parts to it, I think partly by the way that I measure myself and by also the way that I measure what I see in different parts of the world. I look at other movements, with music, whatever else it is, whether it’s farming, activism, construction, there are just so many things that are happening on the planet that are creating good vibrations, and creating a reflection of the inner world that is really becoming more beautiful, and the majority of us say so. I don’t know how to quantify that, I just know that when I hear stories and when I see people’s faces, I can see that there is good being shared out there.
VA: Where do you see yourself in a few years?
NB: Well, I see myself going in different directions, whether it’s just going to be a second volume for “My Name is Bear”, so people will be impacted by this sort of vibe of storytelling, and there will be a new medicine records which will be more political and more direct with slightly more aggressive content I guess but not harsh. I think our movement is expanding from becoming far more an independent entity that is known to be really DIY, and also for myself personally, just continuing share the love and promoting that vibration because that’s what our world needs, and we have always known that, and to be expanding my own personal consciousness in my life as I become less of a child and more of a man.
...I've always been a 'Do it Yourself' kind of person``.