Led by the smash single, “Christopher”, the Eastern Cape-born singer-songwriter puts God on the dance floor, crafts boy-on-boy heartache songs and still remains the most enigmatic pop star you have never heard of Although Nakhane Touré’s gifts bloomed as early as Grade 2 when he scored a role in Greenwood Primary’s (Port Elizabeth) production of
Led by the smash single, “Christopher”, the Eastern Cape-born singer-songwriter puts God on the dance floor, crafts boy-on-boy heartache songs and still remains the most enigmatic pop star you have never heard of
Although Nakhane Touré’s gifts bloomed as early as Grade 2 when he scored a role in Greenwood Primary’s (Port Elizabeth) production of “Noddy” – he was eight in 1996 – before peaking with the lead role as Joseph in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat(Andrew Lloyd Webber’s staple fare for drama schools and theatre revues alike), the tipping point for him happened about six months ago. And it was about, and not strictly about, a boy. Still is. The boy and something else bigger: Something else that, in Nakhane’s life, has been bigger than boys, or girls, or you and me. Something that has consumed and restocked his energies when nothing else, besides his close second love, music, could. And that something else is God.
And the boy?
Hang on a bit. We are getting ahead of ourselves. Just five, six or seven months ago, the most formidable of all rising stars of the last decade, not only in the local but also the international music firmament (period!), singer-songwriter Nakhane Touré was homeless. He was almost resigned to the possibility he was heading to a life on the street, but for the generosity of friends on whose couches he crashed while writing new material for an album he knew was his most honest piece of internal expression to the external world. And yet, at that time, he never knew it would ever be made.
That’s all before he met the boy, Christopher. Yes, Christopher. Not unlike millions of his fellow Generation Z-ers, Nakhane Touré has been in a year-long, year-strong and yet, by its very nature, surreal, and intensely real virtual contact with a boy named Christopher, a Manchester (U.K.) expat just a year older than him whom he met online.
A week later, after meeting Christopher “proper”, that is after about a year of online playing “let’s get to know each other” – ” ‘ey man, online courting … it’s today’s world”, he would later tell me, dismissing my shock – Nakhane Touré wrote a song named for him, about him and to him.
They were not yet an item. They still aren’t. “We are not an item, we are lovers. I love Christopher so much it hurts.” Five months after his eventual meeting with and getting into a relationship with Christopher, and hardly a week after I’ve met him at the Rolling Stone photo shoot for this story, I arrange to meet him to talk to him properly. When I turn out one early evening at a building in Highlands, the picturesque part of what is left of the romanticised Yeoville of the late 1980s, I find him on Christopher’s bed, bare feet dangling, his attention spread thinly between watching a documentary about the late, tortured rock mega-talent, Jeff Buckley, and trying to read Zadie Smith’s breakout novel, White Teeth, and some other novel, entitled, well, Homeless.
“It’s unfair, check here … ” he picks Zadie up, his arms flailing: “I mean, you know, she’s so beautiful, and so intelligent, isn’t she?”
“She is,” I tell him as we both salivate over Zadie’s round, bright, dangerous eyes and shake heads in disbelief about the kind of brain the danger in her eyes conceals. Today, not only is he no longer homeless (he is actually about to move into his own place at the beginning of October) Nakhane Touré is also “hopefully”, as opposed to “hopelessly”, in love.
I first heard of Nakhane Touré about a year ago and didn’t make much of him or the sources spreading the gospel of his talent – and with reason. In this country’s freewheeling-and-dealing pop-biz, anyone can sommer bottle-package their fart and call up a presser.
No worries, by that night’s news, the media will have anointed them “superstar” status, and if our superstars die too quickly the results of the toxicity of quick fame and its cargo, “superstar”, will be quickly substituted with “pauper”. So I was having none of that “rah-rah, have you heard this wunderkind” old wives’ tales. Nakhane who? Sorry, I am busy man. Wrong number.
It was some aeons later when a friend slipped a copy of his new album, Brave Confusion, on a car stereo as we Formula-1’nned down De Waal Drive, one criminally cold and wet Cape Town midnight, the music at full blast. His music was unrealistically beautiful: David Lynch as a soulblend of both Bowie and Sibongile Khumalo, if you can imagine it.
Considering my almost two-year suspicion and disinterest in him without even ever hearing his music, Nakhane Touré’s name, his voice, music, meaning, poetry and style started haunting me. What kind of a person, or what kind of a black man creates music like this in South Africa today?
The very moment his music lodged itself in the inner sanctum of my subconscious and refused to leave, in that irritating manner wherein a spellbound middle-aged fool walks around whistling songs even as he fights the urge to, I too became honest.
For once I embraced part of my burden as a South African, which helped to nudge me towards accepting, at least if not dealing with, my own prejudices: the reason I was not feeling this brother before boils down to the story of race. Or, at least, race in its peculiar and bullshit South African everyday dramatisation. I distrusted the boy. For someone as highly distrusted himself by some fellow blacks (“too punk”, “hangs a lot around pork meat”) as I am, someone who, because of his perceived “sympathy for the devil” should by rights possess an intuitive empathy to nigger dilemma: deep suspicion, dislike even of any black person loved by white folks. Is this what people mean by “the Only Nigger at the Dinner Party” syndrome?
Race and the perception and suspicion it carries in such toxic countries as ours is also a tricky bitch to handle. Being black, especially black, means being at home in double consciousness as well as getting into and out of masks all the time … it’s a social state of self-fluidity. “Faking the funk”, as my friend, the author Nathan McCall, puts it in his collection of essays inspired by Marvin Gaye, What’s Goin’ On?
The rock crooner Lenny Kravitz tells the story about one of these types, the only senior black man at Virgin America. In the story, “brother executive” calls Lenny aside and says: “Brother, why don’t you ever put anything on the record for us?” To which a miffed Lenny pushed back: “For us? What does ‘for us’ mean? Man, I am making my music! I don’t think when Maya Angelou writes, Maya Angelou writes for us. Maya Angelou writes for herself.”
Although Kravitz might have been economical with the truth – indeed Maya’s work, like James Baldwin’s, Miriam Makeba’s, and The Rolling Stones’ for that matter, is rooted in the unmistakable black aesthetic; it is also true that artists, and just about everyone else eclectic or electric enough to play out of the ethnic camp, get racially profiled as either irrelevant or as Aryan Kaganof puts it (in the Chronic Books), “in love with their oppressors”.
But, for the elevated, committed, liberating and corrupting singularity and beauty of Nakhane Touré’s Brave Confusion, and god knows for my sins, I instinctively knew I had to meet this kid now, tomorrow, whenever, but the inevitable could not be postponed.