Nahko And Medicine For The People – ‘HOKA’ [Review]

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According to modern cultural commentators, our society is slowly losing its capacity for empathy. The potential causes range from capitalistic money-chasing to isolating smartphone bubbles – but regardless of the reasons why, the solution is the same. There isn’t one. We’re sick of it all, but we don’t know what else to do but grin and bear it.

As their name makes clear, Nahko and Medicine For The People are well aware that countless individuals worldwide desperately want to get up, get better, and get on with life. Cue HOKA, an album that chronicles a lifelong struggle with trauma and its consequences – and a series of personal victories that fuel one of the most emotive releases you’re going to hear this year.

Forgive and forget, let go, move on…all of these are platitudes, so easy to say that they’re repeated over and over again so often that they’ve lost all meaning. Forgiving, forgetting, letting go and moving on are all easier said than actually done. Still, Nahko has made significant progress along those paths, and you have to respect his willingness not only to do it, but also to put his story out in song in order to show others that it is in fact possible.

Considering Nahko’s backstory, he has plenty of reasons to hold on to anger and hatred. He was adopted, left home to travel with his guitar, found his mother via the Internet, and learned that not only had she been forced into human trafficking, but his biological father had been murdered in 1994. San Quentin – one of HOKA’s standout tracks – tells the tale of how Nahko visited one of America’s most notorious prisons to meet the man who killed his father…and forgive him.

That action clearly required a lot of inner strength – and HOKA is bursting at the seams with it. Racism repeatedly emerges as a recurring theme, as does the need for action as well as talking. Make A Change (and its accompanying video) says it all, from its none-more-direct title to its affirmative lyrics via energetic, super-funky grooves.

HOKA as a whole is nothing if not powerful. Nahko’s vocal lends strength to even the most delicate moments, as on the piano-led All Can Be Done, another album highlight; propels We Shall Overcome’s low-key soul into cathartic territory with rapid-fire rapping; and allows Tus Pies (Your Feet) to soar to the same heights as the greatest folky tunes in history. Every word comes drenched in both toughness and sensitivity, with no room left for doubt.

It’s obvious that every word has been earned the hard way.

Calling an album a journey is a classic cliché, but in HOKA’s case, it’s impossible, inappropriate, and even disrespectful to deny that that is what it is. Climactic track The Wolves Have Returned takes a turn for the distorted and dissonant before guest musicians Trevor Hall, Xavier Rudd, Leah Song and female trio Joseph launch it over the top and HOKA is brought to an inspiring, invigorating end. Looking back on the whole thing, all nineteen tracks of it, it’s impossible to see it as anything but a long and winding road through the brilliantly creative, hard-fighting mind of a survivor.

A life story, perfectly told. Life lessons, lovingly passed on. Empathy and emotion, delivered in droves. If the world is getting to you, this is an album you need to spend some time with.

Medicine for the people? Yes. Without a doubt.

TMMP RATING: 92% (Essential Listening!)

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Posted on 10 June 2016

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