From the beautiful shores of Oahu at this years Wanderlust Festival, we sat down with Nahko just moments before he and Medicine for the People took the stage for their explosive headlining performance, and talked about their recent surge in popularity in the Festival scene and his involvement with Wanderlust. Nahko was humble about his rise to the level of some of his own inspirations, as well as open and honest about what he believes people find so appealing about his music and message, and what direction the band takes after an already evolving and changing cast. He shared some insights in to some of the ways he stays grounded during heavy touring and traveling, and some of the things he keeps with him to connect him to home and his past. Nahko is a bearer of knowledge, from an old soul perspective through the eyes of a modern man, he brings the message and medicine through his music. He speaks from experience about his personal journey, one that so many people find relation to in some way, and looks into the future with hope and without fear. He understands his connection to his audience through live shows and accepts the undeniable truth that with platforms such as social media, his message spreads further. He is the one we are looking up to now yet he is quick to remind us all that he is only a man, only one man, and that his journey is all of our journey. We must work together and find our truth north.
How many Wanderlust Festivals have you performed at?
Last year maybe 5 or 6, this year we did New Zealand, Syndney, and now we are back here on our turf in Oahu, and we will do Whistler as well.
What is it about Wanderlust Festivals that attracts you?
To me, and I really feel this now since I have been doing them for a year now, I feel that sense of community is really strong. Honestly I can say I have learned a lot about myself through Wanderlust because at first I kept everyone at arms length because I was like the new guy and wasn’t so sure. And I knew that I had something to offer and that something was being offered to me but I wasn’t quite sure how to receive it or give it, so over the last year coming and going from it, I have really learned how much I can get and how much I can give in this community. I think for me, in the wake of other artists who have really brought forth the Yoga community into a place of activism, whether its personal individual activation, or its activity and activation outwards to the earth, or for community. I can see now how much good I can do in this world. So now I come and I’m like wow, there is so much for me to learn. Like Im still a new person with the Yoga thing and I love doing a practice and doing yoga but I have yet to get involved, and I look forward to knowing how to open my heart up to doing that. I’ve always been the guy that played music for something, even in high school I would be like playing piano for like theatre stuff, I never actually got to be onstage. so I feel like I’m still learning how to be a part of something, and it’s tricky sometimes learning how much you have to offer people.
Thats interesting because a lot of people would say you are a main part of whats going on here.
That has been an exciting thing to just understand that. It’s like all of the sudden I’m like here and I’m still trying to understand that. But I love the people…that’s what I’m trying to say. I love the people and I love the essence of Wanderlust and finding what your true north is in the sense of being able to go and discover yourself. Find your compass.
Do you do yoga?
Yeah. I do a practice on my own and I’ve been learning throughout the years and taking classes in different places around the world but I have yet to get into the yoga here ( Wanderlust ) and drop into a class at the Festival.
Your popularity on the Festival circuit has sure grown tremendously and you have been successful over just the last two years or so, what do you think is driving that? What is it about your music, your lyrics, your band that is so appealing to people right now?
I really think its just like the raw honesty of who we are as people, and our availability to get to know our audience is what I think has been missing in a lot of the music business and music scene lately. There has been a handful of artists in the last ten years like Franti and Xavier and Matisyahu and all these others, and its been crazy for me to grow up with them and be like how cool are they, and then all of the sudden be touring with them or playing on stage with them. So in just a couple years I went from talking about them to working with them. And so I’m like, what did I do? What I think happened, in the wake of understanding like my own identity crisis growing up and coming up to being who I am now I’ve realized that I didn’t need anyones validation, I didn’t need anyone telling me anymore that I could do what I wanted to do. Once I realized that I had everything I needed to reach people and reach myself through that, thats when everything started blowing up.
It’s like a manifestation…
Yes, but like a subconscious one. I was like yeah whatever happens, happens. Im fine. If i’m playing music in a cafe for the rest of my life it’s cool, i’m good. And then all of the sudden I’m playing on a huge stage at Wanderlust.
What is the message for Nahkos music, what is the medicine?
I feel like it’s about empowerment, really. It’s about self empowerment. Through empowerment you get to be brave. Through bravery you have courage, and through courage you wouldn’t have fear. And so being able to offer a story that is so different yet at the same time so similar to everyones process and unique coming of age, your able to reach a demographic that is limitless, and a generation that is so hungry for soul. And to realize that there isn’t one leader, that we’re a team, and that we need to work together. And that has been something else for me to work through. I hear people and they’re like, your the one! And i’m like no no, I am one. And they’re like your the man! And i’m like, i’m a man, you know. And i’m like we’re doing it together guys (laughs), I couldn’t do it without you! I think empowerment for sure is what I’ve found to be the message. being a driving force to help people see their beauty. and to be leaders you know.
And I imagine that makes you feel empowerment too, being able to bring that message.
I feel powerful telling other people to be powerful. (Laughs)
Speaking of you being one man, you are part of it, it is a movement, and there has been progression. There has also been changes in the band members, there has been growth, theres been evolution in the band. Can you speak to that a little? And also, where is it headed?
Well I can say where I would like it to go but you never really know until you get there. I was with my uncle once and I asked him where we were going and he said to me, we’ll know when we get there, and I was like whoa, thats deep. But with the band, you know, we become family, and with family sometimes family is there and sometimes family is not there. But your always still family. I think we all understand the cycles that bands go through and sometimes you have band members that become such iconic people in your band that they also are the artists as well, and other roles take place. Like everybody else in our band is an artist, everyone has their own music, their own tours they’re going on with their other projects so you know, our band will continue to shift and shape over time, much like I would expect it to. I would never expect my band to be the same ever, and I wouldn’t want it to be. I would miss playing with someone if they were gone, but I would know that there are so many people, in the pocket, that are perfect just like the people that i’ve had with me for the last 4 or 5 years. It’s like ever changing poetry in motion, it’s like what you see is massively beautiful, and what you see will change, which is what we are about.
I wanted to ask you because you do travel so much and tour so much, how do you stay grounded and are there any things that you carry with you that connect you with home?
My grounding techniques for me personally are doing some yoga, and my journal really. Stuff that I carry with me is like, and that’s funny that you ask that because my suit case is like consistently over weight when I get it in the baggage carousel , and i’m like what is in this thing? And I open it up and it’s like less clothes, and more stuff. It’s like a coyote pelt, some rocks, you know what I mean? Like stuff that i’ve found or stuff that people give me. Beads that I carry and this pouch in my suitcase that is literally just full of ceremony stuff, and i’m like maybe I should weigh that, and then i’m like nah, it has to come. It’s crazy when your traveling like we do it’s like my whole life is in a 65 lb. suitcase, and I rarely clean it out. So it’s many different things.
Your message is so profound , what is it like for you to stand on the stage and see so many people standing in front of you reflecting that message back to you, singing your lyrics back to you?
It’s super powerful, it’s, a …joy. I remember when I was first playing in Portland at like Muddy Waters, and I was playing with Max my horn player, and I was just playing a couple songs and people were singing them back to me and I thought wow, this is so cool, it’s like a huge choir. But I never thought it would come to this. I was always just hanging out drinking coffee, smoking weed, so to see it go to where it is now, now i’m like, my vision goes much further, and it’s not even always about the stage. Nowadays your touring and most of your income comes from touring, but most of your reach is online. So my feeling is like the more people I can reach online is better, which is really tough to say this because face to face is really where the heart to heart is, but it’s like, how did Aloha Ke Akua get 3 million hits? It got shared. Because social media rules us right now, and i’m down. I love this generation. It’s crazy, It’s crazy, It’s absolutely insane.
What does it feel like to be in Nahkos’ skin right now? You must feel really blessed.
It’s crazy to go from like Portland, to living on the farm for like 5 years and growing fruit trees and vegetables, and then to go to like, traveling around the states every summer with like 50 bucks, to waiting around till fall came so I could trim some weed, and then it’s like the creator said ok, you gotta take it up to the next level. But remember, I’m still a human, I still get sad, I still get depressed, I still struggle, you know. I’m still living in the system, it isn’t perfect for me either.
Zachariah Bunnell is founder and Editor of VibeWest and has been involved with the West Coast Festival Scene in many fashions for the over 20 years. He is a world traveler who always considers the Pacific Northwest home.
Jessica Cerine is an Intuitive Life Coach and VibeWest contributor currently based in Portland, Oregon.