So far in our trips around the world we haven't visited Africa. I say it's high time we do. Ladies and gentleman, here's South Africa's very talented son, an out and proud gay man, Nakhane Touré.
Born Nakhane Mavuso in 1988, in a small town in the Eastern Cape called Alice, he was adopted by his aunt, Nothemba, who gave him Mahlakahlaka for a surname, he moved to Port Elizabeth when he was seven, and at 16 he moved to Johannesburg, where he's still residing.
His maternal side of the family was very musical, so he grew up in an environment of singers and choirs. When he was in primary school he studied the trombone classically, while playing other instruments like the piano, steel drums, drums, marimbas, and then later the guitar. He changed his surname to Touré as a way of honouring his hero, Ali Farka Touré, the Malian singer and multi-instrumentalist. On his Facebook page he lists his cultural influences: Marvin Gaye, Mark Hollis, Busi Mhlongo, Nick Drake, Madala Kunene, Fela Kuti, Radiohead, Pharoah Sanders, Herbie Hancock (70s), Miles Davis (70s), DM Stith, Joni Mitchell, Ali Farka Touré, Arthur Russell, Henry Miller, Will Oldham, Toni Morrison, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, The Holy Bible.
You may notice that there are authors, as well as musicians, listed as his influences. That's because he's also an accomplished author, having published the novel Piggy Boy’s Blues a year ago. More importantly, I love his views on reading, especially since the first book he references is one of my all-time favorites. Listen to what he's saying:
"I remember being a young queer boy, coming to terms with the fact that I felt like an outsider all my life and picking out James Baldwin’s Just Above My Head. That book saved my life because here was someone who felt like me. It made me accept that my feelings were not crazy."
"Reading has made me not kill myself. It’s important for any reader to be able to connect with a book, even if the writer is from a different generation and on the other side of the world. Reading books that had characters like myself helped me deal with a ton of things. Like Toni Morrison said, if you’re not reading what you want to read, you’re in a good position to write it yourself. That’s how my book Piggy Boy’s Blues came about."
"I started writing to exorcise my demons. Any writer that says they were initially writing for people is not telling the truth, because on some level, any sort of creative work is selfish and you’re doing it to please yourself first. Before even thinking about publishing, I just wanted to get something out of me. I wanted to cleanse myself by writing it out."
"The most difficult thing in writing the book was finding my own voice. I have lots and lots of heroes, how do I use my influences from those heroes but mixing it them up in order for it to be me? To write like myself has been difficult and the only thing that’ll help fine-tune my voice is to keep writing."
"The challenging thing after my book got published is the separation between the book and Nakhane. In the beginning, I felt like I had to hammer the fact that it is not an autobiography or a memoir. But someone advised me that you can never write yourself out of your work because it’s your work so I decided to let it be. On some level, of course, I’m using myself and my experiences in the book because I can access those feelings to feel like the character. The book is not biographical but it is intimate. I’m not bothered by it anymore, if it helps the reader connect to the book, that’s okay. I’ve done the work and how you chose to enjoy it is up to you."
The title of his debut album, Brave Confusion, which came out in 2013, is derived from James Baldwin’s seminal novel, Go Tell It on the Mountain.
The opening track, Christopher, is a touching and effective dedication to his lover of the same name. He is a Manchester (England) expat whom Touré met online. Touré says: “We are not an item, we are lovers. I love Christopher so much it hurts.” The song was also a single:
The first official music video from Brave Confusion, however, was for Fog, a very emotionally profound song:
The album had great reviews. NME wrote: "One of the brightest new stars in the African musical sky - a wonderful singer songwriter destined for a very big future". Rolling Stone wrote: "Nakhane Toure is a gifted young singer-songwriter (he's better than Thom Yorke at the same age)". For this album, Nakhane has received four South African Music Awards nominations including: Album Of The Year, Best Alternative Album, Newcomer Of The Year, Male Artist Of The Year.
Another great single that comes with an excellent video is In The Dark Room.
When asked about how difficult it was for him to come to terms with being gay in his particular culture, he gave a very thoughtful reply: “I can’t speak for other cultures. I’m Xhosa and there’s a huge spotlight on masculinity and what it means to be a man in Eastern Cape. So I did everything. I went through the rites of passage of being Xhosa. I went to the mountain,” he says. This despite him not wanting to go.
“I remember my mother used to tell me: ‘Just go, and get it over with. Satisfy your father and after that, you can do whatever you like with your life,’” he says.
Touré says his uncle, Langa Mavuso, is a tribal chief in Alice. This makes him the custodian of culture in his community. It also means pressure for boys in his family, including Touré, who at this stage was battling with his sexual orientation. The two came face to face on gender issues during a family lunch when Mavuso was being inaugurated into the chieftaincy.
“I remember we were talking about these things and I said to him: ‘But malume, phaya ebuhlanti (there at the kraal or initiation school), there are men having sex with other men.’ And he didn’t even try to get away from it." He said: ‘Yes, but we don’t talk about it.’ I couldn’t believe it. Then I said I wanted to talk about it.”
But there came a point when the struggle had to end, says Touré with a sigh. “I began to accept that maybe I might never always agree with certain people about how I should behave,” he says. “Who I’m in bed with, who I’m supposed to love, and what consumes my mind, and who I’m supposed to write songs about.”
Abraham, from the same album, is another song that you should listen to. Here's a beautiful live version:
Here's a live version of the song Tabula Rasa:
In mid 2015 he collaborated with South African multi-award winning record producer and DJ Black Coffee and together they released We Dance Again, which became a #1 hit in South Africa for 5 non-consecutive weeks. Only Justin Bieber and Adele managed to knock the song off the top of the charts.
Nakhane's second album came out in the end of 2015: it was more of an Extended Play really, containing just four songs and clocking under 17 minutes. Opening song The Plague is a strong first single:
Blackened and Bruised is the song that closes the EP. Another excellent song by Touré:
I will close this with Nakhane's own words:
"Thank you for recognizing a South African artist. There are many different musicians and artists in this country who don’t have the confidence to come out. I know for a fact that I’m not the only one. Hopefully with this support, more will find the courage to come out."
As a farewell song, here's a live cover of the Cure's Just Like Heaven from 2013.