eethoven said that “music is the mediator between the life of the senses and the life of the spirit.” Anyone who has fallen under the lyrical spell of musical collective Nahko and Medicine for the People knows how true this is. Nahko and MFTP’s soul-charged sound and inspired lyrics not only evoke a kind of spiritual healing, both personally and collectively, but invite fans into the rewarding but often shied-away-from world of spiritual activism.
“Hoka is a Lakota word,” says Nahko Bear, frontman and heartbeat of the group. “It is a call to action. It’s what Crazy Horse would say when he went into battle: ‘Hoka, hey!’ My call is to put action to the words that I speak and the lyrics I sing. Not just to talk, but to do.”
Spirit Guides Magazine spoke with the lead guitarist of Nahko and MFTP, Chase Makai, about the spirit of music and how it saved his life, and music as activism.
The power of spirit in music is strong in both your work as a solo artist and as part of Nahko and MFTP. How do you get in the head-space to create such powerful and energetic music?
I think it’s different for everybody and I think that it’s never the same. For me, it’s like getting inspired by someone or even just getting forced to spend time by yourself, and just really finding out who you are as a person by being alone. And then translating that into music.
I feel like music chooses the person. I think it comes from a higher place, and it depends on whether you’re open to receive the music, and if you have the talent to transcribe what you feel. It could be psychedelics or stuff like that. For me personally, I don’t write music like that, but I know people who definitely get inspired by that area of writing. It kind of opens up a channel in your spirit somehow to receive that music from another whatever it is—from our ancestors. You know, spirit guides.
What is spirit to you, and how does it mingle with or relate to the music you make?
For me, spirit is obviously a tree in your backyard, the earth, these beautiful landscapes … Because I think that spirit resides in these wonderful places, the guardians of the land. I think there’s a lot of different forms of spirit, but it’s all the same.
I think that taking your shoes off and really planting your feet into the ground, and just imagining roots coming out of your feet, even if you do that for five minutes a day—you can be in the city, or you can go out in the grass and do that—and I guarantee that you will feel more connected with spirit and more connected with your true self. We are not put on this earth to sit in an office all day and slave away for some false company we don’t believe in.
What made you decide to pursue a path of conscious- and spirit-based music rather than a more formulated, commercial, mainstream path?
Ever since I saw John Butler Trio back when I was 18, and I heard him singing about some political stuff, he was just speaking to me in a way that made me feel better about who I could be—and it made me want to do something about the state the Earth is in.
I think that it just chose me too, this path. I never forced it. I never really thought, is this really what I want to do? It kind of just happened. I think that if you put out the vibe of whatever you want in this world, it will come to you. And that can be positive or negative, but I think that if you want to do good things, then certain doors open up for you to be able do it.
If you are really passionate about it and there’s truth to it, and you’re in it for the right reasons, then stuff just opens up—and it kind of happens naturally. And it takes a lot of work too, and a lot of persistence. And a lot of just being willing to learn and willing to listen as much as possible, and let go of your self, let go of your ego.
Do you consider music as medicine?
Yeah, music is surely medicine. It saved my life. If I didn’t play music, I think I’d probably be a drug addict or something. It definitely gave me a reason to live, and obviously I love to sing. If I didn’t play music I would probably go and live in Nicaragua somewhere, and live off coconuts and bananas and surf every day.
I think [music] saved my life in a way, and it helped me connect to God in a way that didn’t scare me or freak me out—or make me think that I was trying to be controlled. Especially Nahko’s music! He taught me a lot about that. I’ve always been a little bit afraid of religion. I could never understand how it worked. I wasn’t raised religious, so I had the opportunity to figure it out for myself.
I think that music is medicine in a way that it just really hits you, it hits you in a part of your soul. You hear that one line or that one note, and I don’t know what it is, but it’s very healing.
What makes it such a unique and powerful healing force for people and our Earth?
I think that music definitely comes from spirit, and it’s a unique thing. Nothing in this world is like music, and there are so many types of music, and I think that everyone has their different music for their own healing.
I listened to a lot of heavy metal when I was a kid, because I thought it made me tough. It was always about who’s the toughest kid. I had to listen to metal music to get that aggression out. And I never got into fights, none of us ever fought, we just listened to metal music.
I kind of like more artsy stuff these days. I really love Ben Howard. He has a knack for painting a picture through his music, and really making you feel these really heavy emotions that you otherwise didn’t know you had. He’s amazing; he’s my idol.
Countless people are incredibly inspired by your work—what do you think makes your and Nahko and MFTP’s message such a potent catalyst for change?
I think that Nahko’s connection to his native culture is very strong. He’s really put a lot of work into strengthening the connection that he obviously has. A lot of the songs that he’s written have come from his ancestors, and him being open to letting that slide through.
It’s not just about music or it’s not just about Xavier or Nahko. It’s about this unseen movement, a spiritual movement—it’s like a gathering of the nations, so to speak. Because it’s not just a battle going on right now in our bodily forms. There’s a spiritual battle, and I think that we, Nahko especially, connected with that in a lot of different ways.
We’ve met a lot of profound people—people are attracted to this message because its not just a message. It’s really deep and it comes from another place, and I guess that’s what makes it unique. You can’t duplicate that. We are about trying to spread as much peace as possible, and I don’t know, it’s beyond me to be honest.
We need our spirits nudged, and that’s what you guys do. Your solo song Unity calms me down when I’m getting too in my head about things.
Thanks for saying that, that’s really cool. It’s funny because I didn’t really try to write that song, it just came. The best songs are the ones that just come. That’s what I’m talking about with music. You could sit down and say okay, I’m going to sit down and write this song and it’s going to be good—and it’s going to have all the right things—but it just doesn’t happen like that.
You guys have inspired so many people. What advice would you give to young people who feel helpless in how they can actually make a change in the world?
It’s funny, I feel like I give this advice a lot, and it’s not easy advice to give because you can almost say too much. I guess my best advice would be to stay away from drugs (laughs). That just makes everything way harder. I generally don’t say that, but that’s what I’ll say to you—because that’s good advice to say.
I think that people learn their own way. I learned the hard way. That’s the only way I knew how to learn. I needed to do it myself and figure it out. I actually really admire these kids—that whether they saw their parents or their older brothers do these things that were obviously not serving anyone—they kind of became these wise human beings.
But yeah, for someone who is looking for advice who feels hopeless, I feel like we have all been there. I’ve felt that. It’s so hard because people have different situations and different family lives. People, when they’re at their lowest point in life, that’s when the realizations come, and the transformations, and the changes. Some people really need to hit rock bottom to find that, and I think that’s what happened to me.