Editor’s note: this article contains mention of sexual assault.
In the summer of 2018, I spent a couple of months living at the New York Catholic Worker, an intentional community committed to serving the homeless and living out the works of mercy in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. After our work for the day was done, a friend of mine and I would often sit on the roof and talk, sometimes for hours. We would listen to music there, sharing many strange and wonderful songs, including the likes of Bob Dylan, Rhiannon Giddens and the Mountain Goats.
Perhaps the most beautiful voice that blessed us with its presence under those starless skies was that of Nahko Bear, the frontman of Nahko and Medicine for the People. Nahko, whose ancestry is Puerto Rican, Filipino and Apache, was adopted and raised by white parents, never meeting his birth mother until he was in his 20s. The story of how his mom was human trafficked and how he came into the world because of sexual assault is deeply tragic. But remarkably, his vision is of forgiveness and joy, and his music is an effort to create healing for himself and his audiences.
I first heard Nahko and Medicine for the People back home in Maine at a public library screening of a movie about the spirit of the resistance at Standing Rock. Unaware of the backstory or even the name of the artist, the beginnings of tears formed from somewhere behind my blue eyes. I got those chills you get when you know a song matches a message with a sound that is beautiful enough to change the world or at least your relationship to it.
The song was “Love Letters to God,” and it spoke to the existential resistance of indigenous peoples in a way only music can. Its beautiful lyrics balance an acknowledgement of the courage “birthed from the womb on the first light of day” and a recognition of all the “many parts to a heavy heart.” The message is a call to action, as he ends the song with the repeated question, “if there’s no beginning, then where would you start?”
In the days, weeks, months and now years since first hearing it, I have played this song over and over and over, getting chills each time. Of course, I brought it to the roof and the humid darkness, where, maybe for the first time, I felt totally alive with a sense of emotional clarity.
The music video for “Love Letters to God,” which has now been viewed more than 2.3 million times, was filmed at the Oceti Sakowin camp at Standing Rock. It includes the familiar images of water protectors in traditional dress, flying upside down American flags and the vast camp that was built to facilitate the resistance. It is very much a protest song, appearing on the band’s album, “HOKA,” which gets its name from what Crazy Horse would say as he rode into battle against American soldiers: “hoka, hey” or “let’s go,” followed by “today is a good day to die.”
I was 17 when I watched Standing Rock unfold from the safety of my computer. Seeing the rubber bullets, the police with assault rifles and the people crying after being tear gassed, I began to wake up to our injustice system. But hearing the sound of the horns and the drums crashing down as Nahko intoned lines like, “Never been so proud of a people / When we’re fighting for a change / Not afraid to lose it all despite all the rage / We are animals / And we cannot be caged” added another dimension. I felt closer to feeling what it must have been like to stand in solidarity with those wonderful, prayerful water protectors. I felt like my mind was opened to the emotional reality of struggle as I heard him sing, “the battle that we face is the place where our scars come from.”
“Love Letters to God” also includes the intersectional connections necessary to bring about the creation of a just world. He references the dying words of Eric Garner as he sings, “I can’t tolerate the hate, and I’m losing sleep / Can’t breathe, cause they’re choking out a war in me.” This image is horrifying, evoking not only those tragic moments on Bay Street in Staten Island but the reality of America’s oppressive structures strangling the fight out of people. But for Nahko, alongside the horror is the joy of faith in powers beyond our troubled world that he seems to be channeling as he sings, “Take my hand / I won’t lead you astray / We will not go gently into the darkest of days.”
Because of Nahko, I began to understand that struggle is not only fighting oppression, but joyfully believing change is possible at the same time. I will forever be grateful to the band for that realization. In many ways, it has made it easier for me to find ways to answer the question that ends the song, “where would you start?”
That is one side of Nahko. I suggest doing a little googling as to the more recently revealed other side of the man.
Much of which has been disproven.
You’re a rape apologist piece of shit and should be sterilized
He’s a pedo rapist
Can you link to specific things that he has done? Or to specific people making claims? Serious request. All I can find while googling is extremely vague statements.
For example, from the Change.org petition, all I see is third-person allusions to what amounts to “anonymous people said things” with no links to any kind of verification. Specifically, “There are currently allegations of underage fondling, sexual grooming, and sexual abuse/intimidation.” Okay. Where are these allegations? In the ether? This is seriously weak. Trump uses the same kinds of vague statements to reference anonymous “many people” to support his arguments.
Another example with a source:
“In the claims against Nahko, one woman compiled multiple accounts of Nahko not necessarily engaging in sexual assault, but criminal misconduct and sexual deviance.” Honestly this has no information I can use to make a judgement. I don’t see any accounts.
Anywho, I’ve been unable to find anything. Lemme know if any of you know of anything. I’m going to keep listening to his music until something verifiable surfaces. Sorry unsubstantiated internet text is pretty unconvincing in this day and age.
Interesting. I thought that when the editors note said this article mentions sexual assault it was going to discuss the numerous allegations against Nakho of sexual assault. To exclude that so freshly on the heels of that debacle makes this article disingenuous. This must be a paid PR stunt.
Agreed with other commenters. I, too, love his music and message. It’s artistically beautiful. I now have a young daughter and can’t imagine ever listening to him again. His use of power to influence and assault multiple young women is unfathomable. I miss him and his music, but cannot support him again.
He has his faults.
He also had some collusion including a group who met and planned his demise coaching women on what to say.
Look around at what is going on in our world and ask yourself can we believe people are not making things up?
No report is on file. That is a bold faced lie. It would have been produced by now, it would be a public record.
None of these 3 then 20 then 100 then 1000 of girls and women, not one single one of them has ever gone on legal record. Just social media.
He vowed he wouldn’t fight with any of them in public and he has not done that yet or ever.
I see them as hypocrites to get on a soapbox for victims and yet any of them willing to make it legal. I guess they aren’t worried about the next “victim”. Maybe because they know there will never be one.
He admits that some behaviors (infedelity for one) resulted in this mess . The real story would be much different. I wouldn’t worry about your daughter.
But if he hadn’t been accused of all of this, all you former fans would have had to look for some other venue which checked off enough boxes on the ” no I’M a douche….No no. ME. You might be a douche wherever you usually do douching, but I’m, like, pretty much THE douche.” Checklist to give you the required confidence in both you’re own position well beyond any moral reproach, and your having given the rest of the “completely insufferable and comically incapable of self awareness” crew a sufficiently intimidating pre-ME ME ME AND ALSO ME CUZ ME IS THE ME-IST ME-ER EVER TO ME MY ME. NOT YOU.-off moral mean mug to keep any of them from have the stones to come at you with some, imagine, lowly plebeian questioning of your moral superiority. And all of that would have cut deeply into the time you have all gotten to spend writing novels to each other about how much better you are then the guy that you’ve all decided needs to be put to social and cultural death immediately and given your past to any sort of redemption or Shelf realization or anything positive. Because you guys don’t want anything positive. You just want to be seen doing what you’re doing.
I’m going to do something right here that a lot of you aren’t going to like. I’m going to make a negative observation about some of the women I’ve known. And at the same time I’m still going to think that if these accusations are true, then this man should be punished because sexual assaulted bad. I can do that cuz I’m a grown up who can think two thoughts simultaneously. I know a lot of women. I have a daughter. I grew up with my mother, my grandmother, and my sister. I love and respect women and I listen to all women and that is how I know they lie sometimes. And when someone’s lying, you shouldn’t believe them. You should listen to them. And then F you hear what they say going to find out if it makes any sense and then you decide whether you believe them. Women, Believe It or Not, almost just like humans. Actually they’re exactly like humans. All of them. And that makes them no more unquestionably deserving of or Unworthy of I’m questioned and on substantiated belief in all things that come out of their mouth. Get a lot of humans on the planet. I do genuinely think most of them are at their core decent. But there are a lot of them are shity, and there are a lot of them who aren’t that bright. And there are a lot of them or both. And a lot of them are women. Just like a lot of the men.
This article is TONE DEAF AS HELL.
Great article. Nahko’s music us incredible and incredibly moving. I spent thousands of hours listening to it and it was the fuel that not only got me through a professional degree but also generated creativity.
Thank you Nahko.