23 Jun Nakhane Touré | Working Bravely with Words
Musician and wordsmith Nakhane Touré knew from the age of seven that he wanted to work in the music industry. His career rocketed in 2013 when he received a SAMA in the category Best Alternative Album for his debut album ‘Brave Confusion’. This had nothing to do with luck but was rather the result of focus, a lot of hard work and just plain bravery. His path has been anything but smooth and it has become important for Nakhane to add an element of humanness to his work by investing himself completely. His lyrics speak of his personal journey with reference to his sexuality, religion and political views. The accompanying music is a blend of his African roots and western influences. Having pioneered a refreshing and original sound, Nakhane has performed for fans around the world. His extraordinary way with words spans mediums, and he recently signed a publishing deal with Jacana Media to print his debut novel ‘Piggy Boy’s Blues’. Nakhane is also currently working on his much-anticipated second album. In this Q&A he shares some insight into switching between mediums, how he found his unique sound, and the importance of patience and persistence when crafting a career.
2013 was an important year for you as you were awarded the SAMA for Best Alternative Album. Has your life changed? What have the years since held for your career?
I think those first few months, and actually the first year and a half, after I released ‘Brave Confusion’ taught me a lot about patience. I performed a lot, honed my live set and learned to live in the songs. I am happy that whatever success I have now took as long as it did to achieve. Yes, my life has changed since – 2013 was an incredibly turbulent year of my life and when I watch some live footage from that time I cringe because I can see the pain. I fell in love. I accepted myself. I understood myself a little better after all that mess.
You knew from the age of seven that you wanted a career in music. How did you stay dedicated to your dream t0 successfully establish yourself as a musician?
Basically by being stubborn and possessing the drive to prove all the naysayers wrong (and believe me, there were a lot of them). I knew it would happen. And that statement has nothing to do with ego, talent or craft; it has more to do with some cosmic information I must have received somehow. I know it sounds incredibly pretentious and maybe loopy, but I used to say to myself that God would never have put this indelible desire in me only to say, “Psyche! You’re actually supposed to be a banker!” So I wrote and wrote and wrote not knowing how it would happen, but having the faith that it would.
How would you describe your sound? What inspires you to create it?
Over the years I have called it a number of things, including Alternative, Alternative Soul, Avant-Pop. A friend of mine used to say that input equals output. That is very true when it comes to creating something, it’s a funnelling of everything you have ever seen or heard into a song.
Having performed locally and internationally, what are the differences or similarities in the ways in which different audiences engage with your music and performance?
It’s all very contextual. When someone who comes from the same background as I do hears a song that somehow references that background, they understand the work a little bit more vividly than someone who is completely detached from that context. But then again, even though people may have some distance to the subject matter or references, the feelings are human. And so, if they are interested in the music they are bound to feel something… human.
What are the differences between your award-winning debut album ‘Brave Confusion’ and your new upcoming album? Do you feel like your sound has progressed?
The biggest difference between the two works is how they were written. ‘Brave Confusion’ was written in a very troubadour style of me sitting down with an acoustic guitar and just working out the songs. This time around I employed more technology and wrote almost completely on piano and keyboard, using my laptop as an instrument. Working in a way that was slightly unfamiliar to me helped me work songs out differently and to not repeat myself. Having said that though, I still transcribed some of the songs into acoustic guitar songs to make sure that there were songs there. It is one thing to have a great and interesting sound, but the song is, and will always be (for me, at least), the primary focus.
Your debut novel ‘Piggy Boy’s Blues’ will be out in September. How did this come about?
Sometime early last year, Bongani Madondo put me in touch with a publishing company that was interested in the work, but could not unfortunately put out the novel. So I was advised to send the manuscript through to Thabiso Mahlape, a publisher at Jacana Media who liked the work and decided to publish it. The date for the publication was decided and we reviewed the novel. Having spent about 6-7 years working on this book, there were things I had overlooked (I was so young!) to the point that I actually decided to completely rework the novel. I took a month off, switched my phone off and basically re-wrote the novel. I even changed the title from ‘To Whom Shall We Go?’ to ‘Piggy Boy’s Blues’.
How would compare the experience to producing an album?
As much as they are two different mediums, they do have quite a lot in common. But the process of writing prose for me is different to music in that I need complete silence in order for me to concentrate. Whereas when I write a song I can work in most environments. So that was the major difference.
You’ve said that Zadie Smith’s ‘White Teeth’ was an inspiration for your first song after ‘Brave Confusion’. How does literature fit into or inspire your storytelling process?
Consuming and producing literature has helped how I work with words. I have used the constructive criticism I received for my prose in my music. Certain sentences, words or phrases can trigger musical ideas. I have no idea how to explain that, but I may be reading a novel or poem and the imagery may inspire a song.
What advice do you have for someone who is thinking of carving a path in the music industry.
You have to work very hard. It is as simple as that. Consume the kind of art you want and need to consume. And don’t be afraid to be laughed at.
Look out for Nakhane sharing more insights soon in conversation with Between 10and5’s Uno de Waal in Glenfiddich The Art of Individuality web series.
Photography of Nakhané by Darren Gwynn.