Mainstream music has fallen prey to a habit of being short, sweet and shallow. Nahko and Medicine for the People, the multi-cultural music collective that always makes time for Eugene, slows things down with elaborate melodies, lengthy songs and lyrics that dig into an emotional narrative of life’s shitty times.
Portland-born Frontman Nahko Bear is Apache, Filipino and Puerto Rican. He ties his identities into his lyrics by incorporating Hawaiian, Lakota and English, and he also smashes the art of storytelling on a strikingly vulnerable level; his work is like a memoir set to music.
Bear shares his story — strewn with healing racial injustices, ethnic stereotypes and deep-seated traumas — by approaching it with positivity to achieve spiritual harmony; y’know, the good stuff.
The heaviness of Bear’s lyrics is balanced by the band’s uniquely layered sound. Chase Makai and Patricio “Pato” Zuñiga Labarca create luscious Americana melodies on their guitars while Tim Snider brings in some lively folk notes on violin. Justin Chittams and Hope Medford (both on percussion) effortlessly guide the music’s tempo between upbeat and hard-hitting, while Max Ribner (trumpet) adds a splash of blues and swing.
The group released its third album, HOKA (a Lakota word to evoke a call to action), in June 2016. It’s a whopping 19 tracks and each song upholds the lyrical genius and new-agey big-band sound the group is known for. The theme of the album is the band’s own hoka: spread inspiration and awareness, and create a world where harmony can flourish (lighten up, you pessimist).
Catch the reggae-tinged HIRIE open for Nahko and Medicine for the People 8 pm Wednesday, Oct. 19, at McDonald Theatre; $27 adv., $30 door. — Kelsey Anne Rankin