When singer and songwriter Nahko Bear wrote “Dear Brother” for Nahko and Medicine for the People’s fourth album, Take Your Power Back, it wasn’t to charge up the masses to fight against racial injustice and police brutality in 2020. It was written in 2014 — a year after the Black Lives Matter Movement was born and during the time of civil unrest in Ferguson following the death of Michael Brown.
“I wrote that song the day after Ferguson happened,” Nahko told SPIN about “Dear Brother.” “It’s completely directed at injustice, inequality, racism in the country, and the authoritarian system. And yes, it’s just literally directed at that.”
Nahko and Medicine for the People is a collective of musicians, led by Nahko, from all over the globe. And with a diverse set of backgrounds, the band aims to make music that doesn’t necessarily fall into one genre, which is why “Dear Brother” carries hip-hop elements while “Slow Down” has more of a pop-rock vibe. While some have called the band alt world music, they just want to make music for everyone.
“There’s just a lot in there,” Nahko said, “and there’s something in there for everybody. And it warms me to know that it’s helping people get through a hard time, and it will continue to do that long after I’m gone.”
Releasing LPs since 2013, including a debut record, My Name is Bear, in 2017, Nahko admitted that he has a big back catalog of unrecorded music. But unlike the other albums, Take Your Power Back, features mainly new material.
“I actually got to write to the album this time,” he said. “A lot of the new [songs] that I had developed were from a series of months off prior to recording. And so there’s this real fresh current perspective from me that you’ll hear in it.”
Listing ’60s folk music and social justice movements like the American Indian Movement and the Black Panther Party as some of the inspirations for his songwriting, Nahko values the power of protest music (he even gave us a whole playlist filled with them) and how it impacts present and future generations.
“I’m constantly thinking about ‘where are we going and what is this historic time we’re in right now? Who are the troubadours that are offering a new perspective or at least offering an old perspective from a current standpoint?'” Nahko said. “And I think that every generation now moves to specific musicians and bands and songs that really push culture.”
He added, “And so that’s kind of where I come from with [songwriting] because I’ve always been drawn to music that pushes culture that moves the needle just a hair or moves it a bit or a lot… These people were instrumental in that era and that helped many artists get us to where we are now.”
Aside from empowering people to fight for what they believe in, Take Your Power Back, which debuted at the top spot on Billboard’s Emerging Artists Chart, also serves to help people get through tough times with songs like “Twisted” and “Part Problem.” With so many people still feeling trauma and pain from the global pandemic, Nahko hopes the new album will give them some comfort.
“It’s therapeutic,” he said, hoping that fans will find solace in the music. “Wellness is really where it’s all at. If you’re really finding ways to take power back, it would be in your best interest to sit down and ask yourself what your needs are and are they being met.”
And he hopes that Take Your Power Back gives listeners new and old some clarity and hope.
“What do I hope they take away from [the album]?” he said. “They just become inspired to take action, whether that’s in their own lives or on a bigger playing field, and that they share that because I think the more people that take this medicine in that sense, they are making a better world.”