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“People don’t know where to place me,” says Nakhane Toure about his music. “I see myself in the middle of nothingness.” A bit dramatic?
However, Mr Toure is right. People do not know where to place him. That is because he is creating music that not many people make. It is not singer/songwriter style, although he sings and plays the guitar. It is not folk although his lyrics are poetry. It is not rock because there are not many distorted guitars.
So what is his music? Well, there are clear influences of David Bowie in the vocal style, Bowie with much more soul. There is some Talking Heads-meets-Prince-funk-meets- Marvin-Gaye-Motown. There are definitely dark influences of the early gothic pop era of the ’80s like The Cure, The Banshees and Echo and the Bunnyman. Somewhere in the mix there is the slow dirge of Nine Inch Nails.
Then there are Toure’s songwriting skills and his distinctive voice. It contains such sadness. It conveys such pain. Lyrically, he is spiritual and there is a disturbing preoccupation with death, although he seems fine with it because he knows exactly where he is going.
There are love songs to Christopher, My Jonathan and Robert. Tracks such as Tabula Rasa and Abraham focus on spirituality. In fact Abraham only has these lyrics: Abraham, father of my fathers, I am the sand, I am the stars, so don’t take me away. No, no please don’t. If My Heart Were a field is a heartbreaking song ending with the words – I assumed you knew I loved you. Goodness my! Here comes the black bile. They are all taken from his debut album Brave Confusion and it is my Album of the Year. The producer is Matthew Fink, who yet again has done an excellent job on the album. Fink is responsible for three previous Albums of the Year in Tonight – the debut albums of The Black Hotels, Jim Neversink and Shadowclub.
The production is epic and grand without being grandiose. At the same time it is simple. The music has many layers and is rich with texture. It is an aural journey, an adventure into emotional pain, a desperation so deep it seems unending. Yet there are glimmers of hope every now and then, which makes the music more beautiful and the pain more intense.
“Playing live is hard,” admits the twenty-something musician. “My lyrics are personal and it is difficult when you are pouring your heart out and they are chatting about soccer. It’s like, ‘Hey, you paid R80 to get in.’”
“Before going on stage I drink a glass of wine and go far away and pray and tell myself I am not s***. Then I go backstage and listen to my favourite album. There is a movement of spirit from them to me. We all aspire to be our heroes. Mine are Radiohead, Marvin Gaye and Simphiwe Dana.”
It is surprising to hear how such a talented, dare I say it, genius, lacks confidence.
However, under the careful guidance of his label, Just Music, and with gigging over and over again to a growing audience, he will grow in confidence. And he must because I truly believe that his next stop is international. Nakhane Toure is not meant for this country. Nakhane Toure is meant for the world. And, when hearing his music, the first question is: How does a black man from the Eastern Cape get to make music that is so influenced by alternative rock from years ago, and which is the domain of miserable, angst-ridden white people?
“I am passionate about music. Somewhere in my teenage years I rebelled against my parents. When I was living in Alice I met Rebecca Malope and gave her a hug. It was my biggest musical highlight of my childhood. I then moved to Port Elizabeth. I first sang when my teacher asked me to sing a solo in Silent Night. I went backstage and it was done. I knew I wanted to be a musician. I knew I had a burning passion. I play the trombone, steel drums, the marimba. God gave me this talent. I get psychotically passionate about music.”
“My dad suggested I become an accountant or lawyer. I knew that if I did, I would end up killing myself. Thank goodness I didn’t.
“My mother had moved up to Johannesburg and when she was settled I moved too. I got hit by a car when I got there and I remember thinking this is why I took so long to move here.”
This album may not be understood by the mainstream market. Does this bother him? “I console myself by saying my heroes were shunned in the beginning – David Bowie, Boom Shaka, Prince.
“Karl Anderson who owns Just Music, says that if you get into the industry easily, it doesn’t mean anything. Music must come before image. People talk about Lady Gaga because of her image, but her songs are boring.”
However, having said that, his debut single, Christopher, was a smash hit across many radio stations.
Two of his live videos have been featured on NME’s website over the past two months. They wrote: “One of the brightest new stars in the African musical sky – a wonderful singer and songwriter destined for a very big future!” I agree!