Words: Caroline Hillary
Photos: Joanne Oliviér
Although it sounds clichéd, Nakhane Touré is an artist who would die without his art. Describing what he does as something as a ‘necessity’, Nakhane surrounds himself with art, books, music, the stuff that fuels his fire.
Nakhane is a SAMA-winning musician for his debut album,’ Brave Confusion’ and has just released his first novel, ‘Piggy Boy’s Blues’, which is already getting stellar reviews.
Living with his partner of two and a half years in a flat on the outskirts of Yeoville, Nakhane agreed to give the ‘Captains’ a sneak look into his ‘Living Room’ and his life.
Thank goodness for Iphone Recorders, as conversation with Nakhane is fast and fluid – following absolutely no path in the process. Our talk is filled with disjointed anecdotes and hilarious stories from a vast well of experience.
From a privileged royal upbringing to being virtually homeless, from internal religious battles to the inevitable decision to come out as a homosexual and face not only familial isolation, but also a very insecure musical future as a Xhosa man making alternative music in South Africa, Nakhane is a storyteller in every sense of the word.
The adulthood of Nakhane Touré could be its own novel. Rich with artistic promise, yet weighed down heavily by depression, he’s an open book to his audience. Even during casual banter he holds nothing back – animated, humorous with a non-pretentiously impressive vocabulary, he lifts the mask on secrets and truths that most artists would hide behind and allows the listener in – allows the reader in – allows the watcher in.
“Growing up I wanted to be an academic. I studied English Literature at Wits and started writing this book before I even picked up a guitar. They say good taste is learned and it’s true because the first book that inspired me to write was actually Augustus Burroughs’ ‘Running With Scissors’. I read it recently and didn’t even think it was good.”
‘Piggy Boy’s Blues’ is not an autobiography. Having just been released, the book was originally written at the age of 20, and then completely re-written at the age of 27, after it already had a publishing deal. “I wasn’t happy with it. I wanted to write a memoir at 20. If I see a memoire by anyone who is under 50 years old I’m like….fuck you! What are you talking about? You know nothing!”
But of course the characters in the book do touch on Nakhane in some ways. How can they not? “As Henry James said, “All the characters are me, and all the characters are not me.” “You will never truly know how somebody else feels – so all you can do is draw from your own well. It’s the saddest but also the most amazing thing in the world because you will never truly know another person, so all the characters are imbued with my own feelings.”
Originally entitled ‘To Where Shall We Go’, Nakhane struggled with the book’s title for months, eventually settling on humanising an essentially highly flawed character in the book and christening it ‘Piggy Boys Blues’. Although ecstatic about the books success, Nakanhe always knew he was a writer. “I wanted to show the world that I’m a writer – I’m not a dabbler ”.
Looking around Nakhane’s flat one can only imagine where his strain of influence actually comes from. Vinyls from Miriam Makeba and Brenda Fassie share shelf space with The Smiths and Radiohead and his book collection is no different – Bronte and Rumi gather dust alongside Kate Bush biographies and Tori Amos poetry, with Xhosa essays and traditional African stories that he later confesses were sadly not taught to him in school.
“We were not taught in Xhosa, I probably write in better English than I do in Xhosa. We were told growing up that if we wanted to understand our language better we should take private lessons.”
At the time Nakhane embraced his situation as English was considered a more successful language for black people to be fluent in, but luckily he had family that insisted on instilling roots and culture beyond what he was learning at school. So naturally his first novel and first album are both in English – and both hugely successful.
Having a mother who believed in her son above all else, Nakhane believes that the mixture between her undying belief and realistic criticism has helped him remain confident in his work. “My family is very sassy. I was encouraged to try anything and I believed my mother when she said I could do anything – I grew up with confidence and I have succeeded today because I was loved.”
Yet, there’s no mistaking that like most first-born sons, a mother’s influence still runs deep within Nakhane and naturally he dedicated the novel to her, alongside his partner Chris, another catalyst for creation in his adult life.
As a devout Christian, batting his inner homosexual demons, Nakhane fought hard to suppress his natural feelings and in the process ended up writing the ultimate seduction track as a deflection tactic – the ‘stalker anthem’ ‘Christopher’.
Written for a man he had never met, nor ever had a face-to-face conversation with but was intrigued by, the record company released the track as his first single and laid bare his true feelings for the world to hear.
But it worked out beautifully for him and the couple became a reality. “It was like the ultimate mix-tape, just really about him.”
One demon that Nakhane does battle with, alongside many other artists, is the chemical imbalance that brings with it deep depression. The moments when picking up a phone seems like a monumental task and creating art is impossible. Starting to speak out about it more, he believes that people need to understand it better, although he still believes he can’t articulate it as well as he would like.
He laughs about it but very seriously points out that the creation process is thwarted, not enhanced by the darker days. “I cannot will myself to be creative when I’m depressed. I cannot do anything, when it starts to lift I begin to gather information and then when the wave pasts I create again. Sometimes I stand my ground and let the wave pass over me, sometimes I try and duck out of it’s way and sometimes I literally cheerlead myself out of it.”
An artist who insists on being humbled by his family and friends, Nakhane is confident whilst being forthcoming with his flaws and is not allowing any dust to settle before he launches into writing his new EP. Although he makes light of his challenges, it’s obvious that today is a great day for Nakhane – he is relaxed and celebrating his great literary achievement, his number 1 single with Black Coffee and being able to thrive in a country that is receptive to his work. “Having the book sold out in my hometown of Port Elizabeth means the most to me, because it’s where I’m from”.
Piggy Boy’s Blues is available at all good books stores including Exclusive Books.
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