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Inside/Out with dub-poet and writer Albert Nyathi
February 04, 2011

Full interview with Albert Nyathi - Read and listen

Describe yourself in five words?
Humble, simple, tolerant, unassuming (I suppose), always joyous, I don't see the reason why I shouldn't be happy.

What's the best piece of advice you've ever received?
That you should always remain close to the earth - that means down to earth. I got that from my father, and I think I have tried to maintain it throughout my journey.

What's the most ridiculous thing you've ever done?
Plenty. I used to drink before my shows; I was having a show in Mutare with Yondo sister and others. I was drunk. It was at Sakubva stadium, it was packed. The crowd was singing the song, and then when I was reciting the poem, I forgot it. I knew the beginning of the poem but each time I went for a new stanza I would forget. The lady next to me would give me the line. I would recite that line and forget the next . . . and I just couldn't hold it together. People were saying ‘he's not the one, he's an impostor!' From that day I stopped drinking before shows. Now I consider the stage to be my office. My advice to any youngster is that if you want to be serious, leave beer alone before and during your work, because the stage is your office. I've never seen anyone who is serious and who is a success getting drunk going to work.

What is your most treasured possession?
My children, and of course my wife!

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
I do not like people killing each other. When I hear that people have killed each other on political grounds it depresses me, particularly in Africa. I'm very sad about the developments taking place on our continent. I don't see why we would just decide to end someone else's life. I really get sad.

Do you have any strange hobbies?
Not quite. I used to play rugby and do karate.

What do you dislike most about your appearance?
I used to be handsome.

What is your greatest extravagance?
When I saw my wife for the first time, I told her that I would marry her and I did. I'm the kind of person who loves happiness. Marriage is my greatest extravagance because I was afraid of it. I had two incidents that scared me. I remember one where a relative of mine was always fighting with his wife. That made me think ‘is marriage like this?' My friend Dumi also scared me. He'd say ‘Umfazi, a wife, a woman is a problem.' So I had mixed feelings about marriage. But eventually I thought let me give it a try, and it was fun.

What have you got in your fridge?
There is Pilsner and food for the family to eat.

What is your greatest fear?
My greatest wish is to see a united country. My greatest fear is that if we are not genuinely uniting people, it may be a recipe for disaster for the future of our country. I'm talking about 40, 50 or 200 years to come. When we are all gone. I'd like politicians to build a nation that is united.

What have you got in your pockets right now?
Money, my driver's license and my bankcard and a few business cards.

What is your favourite journey?
When I went to Hawaii in 1999. I was travelling with Imbongi, and it took three days to get there. It was fun, tiresome though it was. Meeting Miss Hawaii on the beach, and the guy who performed as the younger Kunta Kinte. If I had been alone it would have been boring, but because I was travelling with Imbongi, twelve people, it was fun.

Who are your heroes in real life?
Joshua Nkomo. He told me to go to school. He changed my life.

When and where were you happiest?
When I performed for Mandela when he officially opened Nelson Mandela Avenue.

What's your biggest vice?

What were you like at school?
I was naughty. I never liked school at all. I had no reason to like school. When I grew up there was no role model for me. No inspiration for me to go to school, school meant nothing. My brothers went to South Africa to work in gold mines, and brought back something concrete. They brought money; they'd buy tables, chairs, goats, and donkeys for ploughing. They'd buy one or two cows and those cows would give birth and the kraal would grow. So for me it was practical. Going to school doing all that reading and you don't see anything coming out. It doesn't work.

What are you doing next?
There is a book based on my poem called My Daughter. It's coming out this year. This book is specifically for children. It's illustrated for children between the ages of 6 and 15. There are many rape cases now involving children. That's not right. You can't talk of consent with kids below the age of sixteen.

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