On the heels of this summer’s well-received performance as one of the headlining acts at Tall Tree Festival in Port Renfrew, multi-cultural music collective Nahko and Medicine for the People returned to Vancouver Island for a show at Victoria’s Sugar Nightclub as part of their HOKA: A Call to Action Tour.
The California-based group is no stranger to our little corner of the world, having performed at Cumberland’s Atmosphere Festival in 2015 and at Rifflandia back in 2013. They’ve grown their fan base significantly over the last few years, as evidenced by the passionate crowd who packed the sold out venue for a Tuesday-night consciousness-expanding experience.
Eager fans arrived at the club early, with a significant lineup forming outside prior to the doors opening at 8:00 pm. Within an hour, the club was packed as opening act HIRIE, a sensational reggae band based out of San Diego, took the stage.
Lead singer Hirie – who lends her assumed moniker to the band as a whole – is a global citizen who was born in the Philippines and spent time growing up in Italy before her family finally settled in Hawaii, which she refers to as her spiritual home. While her radiant energy and strong vocals were certainly the focal point of the group’s performance, her bandmates showcased their virtuosic musicality, with two members in particular (Chris Hampton and Andrew McKee) flitting between several different instruments, including trombone, saxophone, flute, melodica, all manner of auxiliary percussion, and even didgeridoo. The result was a refreshing spin on traditional reggae music, including tracks off their brand new album Wandering Soul (released in August) which got the audience amped for the main event.
Oregon native Nahko Bear, born a mix of Apache, Puerto Rican and Filipino cultures, is the charismatic (some would say shamanistic) frontman of Medicine for the People, and he is a man on a mission. To kick off the group’s set, he caught concertgoers by surprise as he made his way to the stage by walking directly through the crowd, evoking the feeling of a protest by chanting through a megaphone. This is certainly in line with the theme of HOKA, a Lakota word that means “call to action”, which is also the name of the band’s most recent album, released back in June.
The band features a unique sound that incorporates folk and rock with elements of world music and hip hop. Some have compared their vibe to Dave Matthews Band, which is certainly evident given their instrumentation, which features violinist Tim Snider and flugelhornist Max Ribner, who add an additional layer of sound beyond the ubiquitous guitar, bass, keyboard and drums we’re used to with most modern rock bands. The group delivered an eclectic mix of high energy raucous songs, along with some soulful ballads and even a bit of spoken word. They featured several tracks off their new album, including “All Can Be Done,” “It Is Written,” and “San Quentin,” as well as an extended version of an unreleased track called “Dear Brother” which encouraged the crowd to “put down the weight” and “get out of your way”.
Nahko’s politically-charged lyrics intensified throughout the show, culminating in a poignant new track with the chant “Peace in America, Be Decent America” as a response to recent police shootings and persistent racism in US media and politics. Nahko and his crew encouraged his “white allies” in the crowd to become more involved in social justice movements that promote cultural and spiritual unity, as well as touting the importance of environmental protection. His message was certainly not lost on the crowd in Victoria, who left feeling energized, knowing they’d been involved in something that transcended music. Meanwhile, Nahko and Medicine for the People will continue on with their mission to provide a soundtrack of the movement for a better planet.