Touted by none other than the New York Times as one of its “10 Hottest Artists to Watch in 2019”, South African singer/songwriter Nakhane Toure gives us a tour of his adopted city.
London is impossibly huge; its centre dense around the parliamentary buildings, Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, Hyde Park, museums, galleries and high streets. Red buses and black cabs screech around fountains as pedestrians throng pavements.
On front doors blue plaques indicate the former abodes of people who made history: “Mahatma Gandhi 1869–1948 lived here as a law student,” or “Jimi Hendrix guitarist and songwriter lived here 1968–1969.”
Up north in Walthamstow, Sol Plaatje is commemorated too: “Solomon T. Plaatje 1876–1932 black South African writer and campaigner for African rights lived here.” In the midst of the bustle, the Thames lap inner-city shores, calm and knowing like yesteryear.
Make It Your Own
In London, it is up to each visitor to make this sprawling, teeming space his or her own, to discover the nooks and corners that best resonate with them. South African singer-songwriter Nakhane Touré has lived in the United Kingdom’s capital for over a year, its gentle mayhem fuelling his creative drive.
This is where he recorded his critically acclaimed 2018 album You Will Never Die. “It is just so crazy over here,” says the 31-year-old artist. “But crazy is good. Crazy is good any day!”
Initially, Nakhane stayed in Dalston, known for its music and nightlife on the city’s hip east side. Streets here are narrow, with pert red brick buildings shrouded in murals and bubble font graffiti.
Formerly the domain of the city’s poor, London’s recently gentrified east today is the playground of hipsters and artists, the city’s cool kids living their best lives. “I really love the Dalston night scene,” says Nakhane.
“I had to move away from there; perhaps it was just a little too much fun.” He gives a throaty chuckle, “Everything is allowed, it is just such a beautiful, safe space. Oh, and such great music too! Disco, 70s funk…”
From The East To Brixton
Presently, the artist lives in Limehouse, also on the city’s eastern fringes but flanking the Thames, a former medieval port. He is uprooting again. This time he will move to Brixton, home of the Brixton Market and Electric Avenue, inspiration of the 1983 Eddy Grant single – a gentrifying hub in the city’s south.
“We found a beautiful old apartment overlooking the park in Brixton,” he says. “From the east to Brixton: yup, we are keeping it trendy!”
In fact, parks are one of Nakhane’s favourite London features – that, and how easy it is to get around the city by foot, given enough time. “I love how walkable London is,” he says.
“So, if you have a lot on your mind, as I always do, it is very easy to stroll, say, from Limehouse to Dalston, which is like a forty-minute walk, and by the time you arrive, whatever you had been thinking about is close to being resolved.”
A Quiet Lunch and Coffee
Nakhane is a fierce coffee lover, his preferred caffeine haunt being an old Gothic church near Bank in the city centre. Host Café serves speciality coffees, cakes and soups under a beautiful high-vaulted ceiling, and even invites patrons to bring their own food for a quiet lunch on its pews.
“It is an old church that was transformed into a coffee shop,” he says. “They have great coffee, and no music. I need the quiet. Music becomes a distraction, because I keep on listening, thinking, I love this song! Or, what a great arrangement! instead of doing the reading I am meant to be doing. So yes, sometimes I need to get away from music to concentrate on other things.”
Nakhane’s best London meal is sweet-potato and chick-pea curry at laid-back eatery Hatch Café in Homerton, near Dalston.
For reading matter, the artist recommends the London Review Bookshop in Holborn, near the British Museum. Presently, he is reading a book on French film director Robert Bresson, Gretchen E. Henderson’s account on beauty norms called Ugliness: A Cultural History, and Ocean Vuong’s poetry collection Night Sky with Exit Wounds.
About London’s most famous museum, he says, “The British Museum, well it is really great, but triggering.” He laughs. “There is a lot of stuff in there that should not be there.”
Another treasured pastime is visiting galleries, his most frequented stop being the Tate Modern on the Thames.
“You know, when I was younger, reading art books, I’d see for example a photograph of a painting by Frida Kahlo, and I would to think to myself, I wonder what it would be like to see this in real life! Over here, that is easy, it is just so wonderful to have that kind of access.”
A Stand-Out Experience
A stand-out experience was a Tate Modern exhibition on 20th century African American art. “That was incredible in terms of scope,” he says.
“And I guess for reassurance, you know. Sometimes you have to do a lot of digging to see certain things, because they are not in mainstream media. For example, sometimes we forget that there were African American classical composers in the 20th century.”
Will he stay in the United Kingdom for the foreseeable future? “I am not planning ahead too much,” says the artist. “I am kind of following my nose, my life and my career.”
Meanwhile, he is gigging up a storm around Europe. And no, he is not overly homesick. His mum insists they speak every second day, bringing him news from Joburg.
Words by Biénne Huisman