Nakhane Toure: Piggy Boy’s Blues

Gaining steady traction as a gifted songwriter and musician, Nakhane Toure has (unbeknownst to most) been working on a novel for the better part of the last decade. In fact, it was a path he started on even before he picked up a guitar. On the eve of the launch of ‘Piggy Boy’s Blues’, Dylan Culhane spent some time chatting to Nakhane about this new creative departure.

How long has this book been in the making? I know these things don’t happen overnight.

I wish they did though. It took me 6-7 years to write the book. I actually studied literature at WITS, and that’s when I started writing the book – which was in fact before I started writing music, and before I could even play guitar properly. It just so happened that the music came to fruition first. But then when I got the book deal from Jacana Media, I read through the manuscript that I had submitted and I didn’t really like what I’d been working on for all that time because I hadn’t read it all in order before; I just wrote different moments of the book as they came to me. So when I was told the deadline was September 2015, I went away for a month to essentially restart the novel. I basically ripped up 7 years of work and rewrote it in 2 or 3 months.

So, seven years and two months?

Yes, exactly.

Why did it take that long? I assume it’s not just laziness. Is the process that arduous?

It’s a couple of things. Yes, it was difficult process because writing is… difficult. Just writing two pages of something that you’re proud of is hard, so writing hundreds and hundreds of pages of something that you really like is extremely challenging. It could have taken just a couple of years with no distractions, but then the music thing happened and I didn’t have time to concentrate on the writing because I was recording, performing, making videos and so on. But writing is just really hard; it’s very solitary, very lonely, and you almost have to cheerlead yourself everyday to believe that everything you’re doing is worth doing, especially when you have no guarantee that this will ever see the light of day. And there’s always the fear that one day you’ll read it all and hate it.

It must’ve been worth it though, because having your debut novel picked up by a publisher is a major achievement.

Ja, I’ve been really lucky. Sometims I try and count all my achievemements and how far I’ve come, and I realise that a lot of my dreams are now coming true at the same time… which sometimes makes me wonder if I’m going to die soon because the universe has just given it to me all at once. But then I look back and realise that I’ve been working on all of this for quite a while. So it’s either just co-incidence that everything is coming to fruition at the same time, or evidence of some cosmic power acknowledging all the work I’ve put in.

You only got your first copy of the book last night. After such a long time it must be an amzing feeling holding a tangible record of all that hard work in your hands.

It’s interesting because I’m one of those people who understands their feelings later. So when my album came out, I saw it and I thought: “This is amazing,” but it really only sunk in and I really only understood the magnitude of it like a week or so later. So I’m seeing the book now and reading it and thinking: “Oh my God these are my words, I wrote this!” and I understand it’s really really big. But there hasn’t been this shift in my psyche yet. It’ll probably happen after everything has ended and I go home and I’m all alone.

People are going to make a lot about Nakhane the musician transitioning to Nakhane the novelist, but these paths aren’t worlds apart, right? Both involve telling stories with words.

Exactly. And they feed into each other: musicality and rhythm feeds into my writing, and prose feeds into lyric writing. They’re different in the sense that writing a book is epic; it’s a big, expansive thing and a lot of work. Writing music is also difficult and can take a long time, but music, much like poetry, is more concentrated. One isn’t more important than the other though. I’m not dabbling in writing, I’m doing it because I feel like I’d die if I didn’t. It’s something I needed to do.

What’s ‘Piggy Boy’s Blues’ about?

It’s based on a Xhosa royal family that has passed its prime, and the protagonist is a guy named Davide. He leaves the city and goes to a rural part of the Eastern Cape called Alice to live with his uncle for some peace of mind. I’ve been calling it a ‘distorted pastoral’ story. In traditional pastoral literature, characters leave the city for the peace of mind of the country; to reconnect with nature and love and romance. Life becomes simpler. But Davide goes to the country, and the opposite happens. There’s a distortion on that trope. When he gets there his uncle lives with another man, a man who’s obsessed with him, and it all becomes very tragic.

You’re from the Eastern Cape originally, and made the opposite move from the country to the city. Does this storyline subconsciously reflect some yearning to return to the simpler life?

Oh completely. In the beginning when I was writing it I guess it was more subconscious, but as I was fine-tuning it, then it became a more conscious decision. Also because I lost my religion, and I wanted to find out what was here before 1652. There must’ve been something beyond the western influx, otherwise we wouldn’t have survived as a people. We had our own spiritulaity, our own science. So that idea of moving from an urban to a pastoral environment became a very conscious retreat to me. On some level it’s about decolonising yourself, though not without complication. In the novel I explore the idea that returning to the country to rid yourself of learned behaviour is difficult, if not impossible.

Is writing a novel something you can now tick off your bucket list, or do you plan on writing more literature in the future?

Oh I’ll definitely write more. It’s something I always wanted to do since I was, like, nine. When I was about 11 or 12 my aunt asked me what I want to be when I grow up, and I said an artist. She asked me what kind of artist, and I said whichever one comes first… which sounds a little lazy, but that’s exactly what it was. I’ve always been interested in all aspects of art. I’m obviously not able to pursue all of these professionally, but I’m interested in using as many of them as I can for my work.

‘Piggy Boy’s Blues’ is now available at most major book stores, or via Amazon

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