Nahko (Nahkohe Parayno), an Oregon-native born a mix of Puerto Rican, Native American and Filipino bloodlines considers himself a citizen in services to the planet. Disillusioned by the world around him and inspired by vagabond, Americana musicians and storytellers like Conor Oberst and Bob Dylan, Nahko left home as a teenager in search of adventure and self discovery. Armed with stories, a guitar, and a fierce set of ideals, he set out to bridge the cultural gaps dividing his own psyche. He began producing a public musical journal of his journey toward personal, spiritual and social healing. Recently, Nahko discussed his successes, his philosophies, his music and his life with Huffington Post, who called Nahko’s music “beautiful and stirring.” Nahko describes his music as a mix of hip-hop and folk rock with a world message.
As a sixth generation Apache/Mohawk with a Puerto Rican mother and a Filipino father, Nahko Parayno grew up with the family that adopted him in an Oregon suburb. As a way to ground himself, Nahko took up the piano at age six and in his teens, he gave piano lessons and directed musical productions for local schools. His talents landed him a seasonal production position in Denali, Alaska and there, with the wilderness around him, he began to put all the musical, cultural and philosophical pieces of his personal creative vision together. Seeing music as international, multi-generational, and multi-cultural, and as a redemptive and healing force, he joined with his backing group, Medicine for the People. Together they began making what has been called “thump-hop,” a percussion-heavy, rainbow-envisioned mix of styles and approaches that is at times as much spoken word as anything else, a sort of 21st century medicine show for the mind and soul.
It sounds like the logline for a classic sixties film… An Oregon native leaves home at 18, follows love from Alaska to Louisiana only to learn about heartbreak the hard way, meets his birth mother for the first time, eventually settles in Hawaii, and launches a successful band. It isn’t the fulfillment of some loose end in Easy Rider or Five Easy Pieces though. It’s the origin story of Nahko captured on his 2017 solo offering, My Name Is Bear [Side One Dummy]. The album predates his rise to mythos among diehard fans in Nahko and Medicine for the People, and it’s an important piece of the puzzle that is Nahko. Collecting music he penned between the pivotal ages of 18 and 21, the musical maverick appropriately describes the 16-track journey as “a prequel.” “It’s the first chapter,” he elaborates. “I leave home at the beginning. On the back end, I meet my birth mother at 21, everything changes, and the Medicine for the People catalog begins. It was about coming of age and shedding that skin. When you’re on your own, those are the first steps to freedom. You have to take care of yourself and survive in a world with the tools you have. For me, those tools were my guitar, my songwriting, and my thumb to hitchhike. There’s a tinge of real mystical revelation as I went from Alaska to Hawaii. I became open to other spiritual texts, and they transformed me. I was on the road, in love, and everything was amazing, but I kept asking myself, ‘What does this all mean?’”
My Name Is Bear might incite some of the same questions. Artfully merging rustic acoustic guitars, upbeat energy, tribal flavors, fiery percussion, and ponderous lyrics, these recordings reflect the soul and spirit fans have come to know and love from his work in Medicine for the People, while venturing into decidedly more “rocking” and “personal” territory, as he puts it. Along the way, he realized who he was. “I came from a broken indigenous home, but I was raised in a beautiful, privileged white home by my adoptive parents,” he says. “It was pretty confusing as I began to come of age because I knew I didn’t come from that household, but somehow through my music I was able to garner the attention of many young people going through the same thing and coming to a similar conclusion. My music did not define me at 18-21 the way it does now. It was my comfort zone. I turned to it to get me through all of the transitions. I had no definition of life at the time. Music is my language, that is certain. It is my way to get in, out, over, and under. It’s my bridge. I can connect with people and many other things with it.”