Nakhane Toure, the soft-spoken novelist, singer, songwriter and all-round musician is the quintessential modern renaissance man. Born in Alice in the Eastern Cape, Nakhane knew that he wanted to become a musician from a young age. His debut album Brave Confusion won him a SAMA award for "Best Alternative Album". And last year he released his EP, The Laughing Son and his debut novel Piggy Boy Blues was published.
You come from a family that is part of chiefdom in the Eastern Cape, are cultural customs important to you and do you practice any if at all?
They definitely are. I take my spirituality very seriously. When I was a Christian I took that very seriously as well. No one could out-argue me when it came to the Bible. And I guess on some level that was the problem. But that’s a conversation for another day.
When I left Christianity I was left with a question: “Who were we before colonisation? What was our spirituality?”. To me, that seemed (And still does) like the most honest I could be with my spirituality.
I don’t condemn any other spirituality. I see them all like languages. Languages changed because people moved apart and they adapted to their surroundings, so it was with spirituality. But I had to be atavistic about it.
South African music and literature still have very narrow depictions of African masculinity. Do you feel that this affects the reach of your work?
I would love to say no. I would love to say that we are playing at a level field, but we’re not. There are people who won’t even look at my work because they think I’m a deviant. A certain kind of masculinity is preferred and performed. It doesn’t resonate with me. It never did. Even as a child it didn’t. So the very simple answer is: Yes, of course it affects the reach of my work. But one has to ask themselves why they’re doing what they’re doing.
I know that when I was younger and I picked up a James Baldwin novel, that it changed my life. I didn’t feel like a freak anymore. I didn’t feel crazy. Suddenly through his work I had community. If my work does that for someone, then I’m happy.
In 2014 you were quoted saying that "being gay in South Africa can be life threatening", do you feel that much has changed since then? And do you think that South Africa is becoming more accepting of the LGBTQ community?
It’s one thing to have a liberal constitution, and another to put in the effort to make sure the population unlearns a lot of bullshit that it was taught about things.
Tell us a bit about your newly released single "Blackened and Bruised (remix)"
“Blackened and Bruised (remix)” is a re-appropriation of something that was meant to be a curse. It’s taking what was meant to maim you, and turning it upside down to use it as a blessing. The Laughing Son EP was named after Ham, a character in the Bible who laughs at Noah, his father after he has passed out naked from drinking too much wine from his vineyard. After Ham has seen his father, his brothers walk into the tent that he is sleeping in, backwards ( so as to not compromise their father’s dignity) to cover his nakedness. Noah wakes up, hears about what happened and curses Ham’s seed, saying that it will forever be a slave to his brothers. Many conservative right wing sects have called that curse black skin, and it has been the reasoning behind slavery and many atrocities against black people. The EP, especially “Blackened and Bruised”, then takes that curse and says “I know this is a lie. I know that this is not who you say I am. I’m going to take this curse and strip it of its power”.
Please share your lowest point in your music career thus far and also your greatest triumph. And what you took away from both of these experiences?
Lowest moment: I was just about to finish the recording of my debut album, Brave Confusion. Then the floor seemed to collapse under my feet. Life fell apart. I was homeless. I was living with two friends, with nothing but a tog bag for my clothes and a box for my books and CDs. Awful as that moment was; I look back on it and see that it made me who I am today.
Greatest triumph: Finishing Brave Confusion, winning ‘Best Alternative’ SAMA in 2014, I know you said music career, but publishing my novel and being long listed for the Sunday Times Literary Prize, being signed to BMG France.
Your music is often classified as alternative and experimental. Is there ever a compromise between the creative aspect of your music and commercial viability?
People compromise everyday. Compromise has an unfair reputation, but it can also be terrible when you feel like the essence of who you are is being stripped, so it’s complicated. But no. I’ve never been made to do what I don’t want to do. I listen to advice, I weigh options, but I refuse to feel compromised negatively.
You've written a novel and released a successful album and EP. What's next for Nakhane Toure?
A few months ago I finished shooting my debut feature. I’m the lead in a film called The Wound. It’s directed by John Trengove. It should be out early next year.
I’m also crossing “T’s" and dotting “i’s” on the writing of my new album
Creative Direction: Phendu Kuta
Photographer: Tarryn Hatchett
Stylist: Jami Ella Gavin
Photography Assistant: Olivia Mortimer
Makeup Artist: Jenna Ungar
Location: David Krut Projects (Rosebank)