5 questions for Nakhane Touré
South African Music Award (SAMA) winning writer Nakhane Touré recently turned his attention to fiction writing as a way of coming full circle with his place of birth and upbringing.
In his novel, Piggy Boy’s Blues, Touré makes a journey back to the Eastern Cape ‘Emotionally, psychologically, (with)memories, glorifying in something that I didn’t see anything to glorify in because I was told there was nothing to glorify which was a lie.’
When did you discover your storytelling voice?
NT: Much later in my life actually. When I was a child, I did more reciting than I did storytelling. I was classically trained in music, I would learn classical pieces and then recite them or play in bands and orchestras. I was around 11 when a teacher of ours gave us clear paper and told us to make up a story and I thought ‘Hmm, people do this for a living, people actually like make up stories for a living- I could do this!’ And then I forgot.
When I was 17 I had left the Eastern Cape and I was living in Johannesburg for about two years. At the time, I had stopped playing music, I was just doing acting at school because there was no music. My storytelling at the time was more focused on dialogue and the drama side of things. I had gone back to the Eastern Cape to re-join the band that I had played with at school for the Grahamstown festival (sic. National Festival Of The Arts). We wrote this song and, at 17, I thought ‘Ah, there’s this other part of music that is really important.’
At that time I was tired of reciting music, I was tired of living other people’s music. I wanted to tell my stories, because I felt that what I was singing about wasn’t honest. I felt like there were stories that I wanted to hear in music that were not being told. And I felt that the only way that I could do that was if I wrote them myself. It started there.
What made you decide to switch mediums and write a novel?
NT: I always wanted to write a book. When I was 17, a lot changed. We were given a project to write an essay. When the teacher had marked and graded the piece, she called me and said ‘Nakhane, I would like to see you after class.’ I thought, ‘God, what have I done now?’ I went up and she said ‘I read your essay and it’s really good but the thing is that it’s not an essay, it’s a short story.’ And I was like ‘OK, what must I do?’ She said ‘Well, you want to write a book’ and I said I do and she said ‘Yes, you do. Write it and I will read it.’ And that seed was planted there.
It sort of took me back to the moment when I was 11 when we were given that clear page and I thought ‘Yeah, I forgot about that.’ I always liked writing, making something out of nothing- I guess that’s a God complex in a way.
You return to the Eastern Cape in Piggy Boy’s Blues, how has that journey been?
NT: It’s almost an unlearning, a decolonisation of yourself really, but with where you grew up, with where you were born, with the landscape that you grew up in, knowing that it has value, that it has every right to be loved.
It stirred up a lot of things both positive and negative within me. I think it’s somewhat in the book as well because the Eastern Cape in the book is a character, the land is a character and so it was treated that way on purpose.
Has writing the book helped you along in the process of ‘decolonising your origins’?
NT: Yes! When I was rewriting the book and revising it, I went back to the Eastern Cape because I couldn’t have written it had I been in Joburg, because of the texture of the city, the noise, the fact that I wasn’t writing about Johannesburg. The truth is that you can write about the Eastern Cape in Joburg, you can (Zakes Mda link). You know who you are and your make up but I felt like I needed to be in the source.
And Piggy Boy’s Blues is so steeped in the Eastern Cape that I need it to be authentic. I hate the word authentic, I think it’s a bullshit word. But for the sake of this conversation I will use the word authentic. I needed to taste it instead of smell it. I didn’t want the molecules. I wanted the actual matter and it really helped me.
So what is next for your career?
NT: Working on a film. I’m really excited about that. I’ll write another book in a year’s time maybe. But I’m collecting information for that particular work.
When I grew up we were taught Charles Dickens which I hated because I found him to be a little bit didactic and self-righteous. There was always a clear ‘These people are right and these people are wrong’. And I feel like we are much more complex than that. There are no heroes.