FEAR AND LOATHING – Self-Styled Outlaw Nahko Bear on Trump, Mass Shootings And Gun Control

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Musician and activist Nahko Bear has accused Donald Trump of playing the politics of fear in his campaign for the US Presidency.

Nahko, who is part Apache Native American, said Trump’s remarks about Muslims and Mexicans ‘absolutely’ risked stirring the embers of a race war that ‘has been waging since the beginning of time’.

The Hawaii-based performer, who starts the UK-leg of his European tour this week, spoke of his pain at the fatal shootings of eight police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge and the high profile police shootings of young black men which preceded them.

In an email chat with Matt Catchpole he expressed his fears that we have not seen the last of such killings and accused Trump of ‘harnessing fear’ to garner support for his bid for the White House.

“To fear another man for his race, religion and creed has got us where we are today. We live in a country built on it,” he warned. “Black and brown folks have been in a race war for ages, even against our own.“

What began as a simple profile of the man and his music became transformed by events.

As our emails criss-crossed the Atlantic, two ex-military veterans – Micah Johnson (25) and Gavin Long (29) – were taking the law into their hands in a savage response to the high profile killings of black men by police, one of which was captured on video by his partner and streamed live on Facebook.

picture by Mikography

picture by Mikography

Nahko’s background has been extensively documented and leaves him well-placed to comment on the situation facing America today.

He was conceived as a result of sexual violence, after his mother – a Native American victim of human trafficking – was raped by his Puerto Rican father.

She had been forced into prostitution at the age of just 14 by his grandmother.

Nahko confronts his origins in the song So Thankful from Nahko and Medicine for the People’s 2013 album Dark As Night, which contains the line:

‘I never thought I’d give thanks for rape, but that’s how I got here today.’

Given up for adoption, Nahko eventually tracked down his biological mother and both have campaigned against human trafficking through groups, such as Willow Way.

It’s a cause he’s intensely passionate about.

“Human trafficking is the second largest growing industry in the world today,” he explained. “There are an estimated 12 million slaves in that industry today and less than 0.4% of them have been identified. The average age of these trafficked victims is 12-14 years old.”

Groups like  Willow Way  help to flush out the “black market pimps” as Nahko calls them and provide safe houses and shelters for child victims.

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Nahko openly condemns both the Dallas and Baton Rouge attacks, and also the high profile fatal shootings of two black men by police, which reportedly fuelled the attackers’ desire for revenge.

In the first incident in July, Alton Sterling (37) was shot dead in Baton Rouge, despite video which apparently showed police had him restrained on the ground immediately before the fatal shots were fired.

A day later, the last moments of Philandro Castile (32) were streamed live on Facebook after he was shot by a white officer, in St Paul, Minnesota, while, it’s claimed, he was reaching for his gun permit.

He had reportedly been stopped because his car had a broken tail light and his partner’s young child was in the car at the time of the shooting

“There is nothing fair to discuss here,” Nahko asserts. “It doesn’t help our journey to justice when gunmen fire at random and kill police officers.  But, neither does {the lack of} a single indictment or any kind of punishment for any of these officers with blood on their hands.”

Nahko argues that increasing numbers of Americans feel disenfranchised, let down by politicians and law enforcement officers.

“We are afraid of those that are supposed to protect us,” he told me in the days before Texas and Baton Rouge: “They keep shooting us and no one is held responsible.  That is the horribly sad part.  We are numb to these stories now.”

Like many others, Nahko argues the recent shootings have their roots in racial fears and stereotyping going back to the time of slavery.

He says figures like Trump, who’s stated that he wants to ‘build a wall” to keep out Mexicans and has threatened to ban Muslims from entering the US, are feeding on these fears.

“These are the times we are meant to fear religious fanatics,” he explains. “The irony, of course, is that to ‘them’ we are a big bully.   We preach freedom and justice for all, when we are slaves to a broken system and injustice is served with a round of applause.”

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Nahko is equally critical of America’s reluctance to get to grips with gun control, which could reduce the incidence and death toll of attacks like Dallas and Baton Rouge.

Tellingly, after 49 people were shot dead in a gay nightclub in Orlando on June 12, Trump suggested, on the Howie Carr show, the result would have been different if some of those in the club had been able to return fire.

“It’s hard to say what could happen if Trump takes office,” Nahko says. “If he had his way, everybody would carry a firearm.  That doesn’t sound like ‘make America safe again’ to me at all.  More like ‘make America fear again’.“

The failure of politicians has, says Nahko, led to the rise of people power movements like Black Lives Matter and the ‘We Are the 99 per cent’ Occupy movement.

“We have re-mobilised in a different capacity,” he explains. “Our trust has been broken time and time again by police and political ‘leaders’.  They can’t shoot us all, but they will try.  And we will keep pushing and praying.“

He is full of praise for an effort by Black Lives Matter to build bridges with law enforcement in Wichita, Kansas (see CBS report here).

“Black Lives Matter and the police department had a cookout instead of a rally   They ate, danced, and had a Q&A led by the chief of police.  He actually quoted Gandhi by saying ‘the change begins with me’.  Now that’s what we’re talking about!” Nahko enthuses. “Real community building to wash away the guilt and shaming and arrive in a paradigm completely shifted.“

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Activism and engagement is what Nahko is all about, he describes his latest album Hoka  as ‘a call to action’ and hopes it will further his concept of ‘real talk music’.

“It just means music that is raw, filled with experiential truths, and offers social commentary for a generation hungry to dialogue,” he explains.

A staunch advocate of the healing power of music – he even calls it ‘medicine’ – Nahko is unafraid to turn a mirror on his most tragic and painful personal experiences.

Before re-connecting with his mother, he was given up for adoption.

Perhaps, one of the lucky ones, he was brought up by a middle class family, who encouraged his gift for music, introducing him to the piano at an early stage.

As he grew older, he grew restless, eventually leaving home at 17 to travel up and down the West Coast between Alaska and Louisiana.

“I learned a new form of art: living without borders.   Without the fear of living ‘without’ and just living for the moment,” he says of those times.

Eventually he dropped anchor in Hawaii, working at a communal farm, where he admits he’d still be happily toiling if it wasn’t for his music.

But more tragic news was to emerge after he met relatives of his biological father.

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“I met my Dad’s family in 2009 and found out he had been murdered,” he explains almost matter-of-factly.

What happened next is chronicled in the song and video San Quentin from his current album (see below).

“It wasn’t until 2013 that I had the crazy idea to go meet the man that killed him and forgive him.  It could have been either way – but, he was ready and open to hearing me out, which was huge and unexpected.

“I ended up sitting with him for four hours.  It was very emotional and insightful to the truth and also lead me to understand my next steps to helping my family forgive and move on.”

Nahko now intends to meet up with the man again, this time on the outside.

“I do plan to find him in the Philippines now that he has been granted parole with help from my family,” he says.

Such astonishing forgiveness has its roots in Nahko’s own particular brand of spirituality, which is drawn from his Native American roots.

Some of his statements can appear idealistic, even a tad naive, but he’s the first to admit he’s not yet the finished article.

“I guess I see myself as just a regular dude trying to find my place in the world, learning how to give back to creation and live in harmony with it,” he explains.

Nahko’s love of environmental causes, mistrust of corporate culture and laudable desire to open up a dialogue with his fans, show an acute and inquiring mind.

He’s angry at the “mess of injustice we live in,” – not least towards Native American people – but his message is constructive and sincere, rather than nihilistic and cynical.

Describing himself as an outlaw, because of his unconventional approach to promotion and touring, he considers himself neither rebel, nor role model.

“I don’t take my influence on the world lightly, but I’ve never been a fan of titles,” he explains.

Instead he appeals to others to join him in doing their bit to bring about change.

“There is a serious need in our country and world for the warriors to step up and take on their respected roles in the changing of the times,” he argues.

“Every movement needs a soundtrack and that is what we are providing.”

  • Nahko Bear and Medicine for the People play Koko in Camden on Wednesday (10 August 2016) at the start of a five-date UK tour, before heading out to Europe and back to the US and Canada.
  •  Find out more about Nakho here.

 

 

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Full time journalist, music lover (obvs) and truly terrible guitarist. You can find Matt on twitter @matcatch

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