160315. Afro-Soul singer Nkosinathi "Nathi" Mankayi. He is currently signed under Muthaland/Ghetto Ruff. 192 Picture: Dumisani Sibeko

There is no arguing that hip hop is on top of its game, but there comes a time when you need to break away from that and listen to something more meaningful or more honest. There’s only so much we can hear about the gold chains, the money and the sex.

Sometimes, heartfelt ballads, based on true stories, win hearts. We have had the likes of Zahara and Ringo Madlingozi do well in this regard and their latest competition is new kid on the block, Nathi. Armed with a husky voice, a guitar and a harsh past, Nathi uses music as therapy to overcome his realities.

“I am a boy from the Eastern Cape and was born in uMthatha. I studied in Maclear which is 6km from uMthatha. I loved music and drawing from a very early age,” he said shyly.

Although he grew up in poverty and his survival depended on the income his mother earned as a hawker, Nathi put that behind him by concentrating on music and art.

“I started music and drawing in school and when the other kids were playing I would find myself singing or drawing. I just discovered that this was a calling. I had to do both,” he recalled.

His debut album, Buyelekhaya, is covered in drawings done by hand. Nathi explained that he felt strongly about going with this expression as opposed to taking studio pictures.

“On the CD cover, I wanted to tell a story. I drew it all to portray my journey from when it started to now,” he said.

Although he is now drawing in the comfort of his new home, earlier in his life, to supplement his mother’s poor earnings, Nathi would cobble up artwork to sell.

“Drawing used to be the only thing that I could use to put food on the table. I used to draw and sell my art because there was no one working full-time at home,” he said.

An initiative pushed by the Elundini Municipality gave birth to the Dare To Dream competition which inspired young people to showcase their talents. Nathi entered reluctantly, but did well in the contest.

“I won the competition. The competition sought to nurture talent in PE and they would ask people to showcase their music. The Maclear municipality funded the project and they called in the Jaziel Brothers to run the proceedings and the winner’s album. After winning I used part of the prize money to buy a guitar and then I taught myself how to play. That was in 2011. I had not played before.”

With the guitar, a bit of fame in the bag and the guidance of the Jaziel Brothers, Nathi decided to pen songs that reflected on his past. This is what gave birth to Buyelekhaya.

“I wrote all the songs from a personal place. All of the songs are about the love that I have experienced over the years and I am just sharing that with the world,” he explained.

The music found its way to Ghetto Ruff’s Vusinova who called Nathi to collaborate on the hit song Nomakanjani. The duet was a good idea, which saw Ghetto Ruff boss, Lance Stehr, sign the singer to his legendary stable.

“It is a great feeling to be where I am today because I never dreamt of this. I am encouraged to do more and work harder than I did before because this kind of success can mislead you into thinking that you are unstoppable,” he said humbly.

If you have ever wondered what Zahara would sound like if she was a man, Nathi is the answer.

• Buyelekhaya is available nationwide.