In the wake of the success of his BLM rapumentary Thoughts of a Black Guy, we sat down with local musician and journalist Nathan Emmanuel to chat about his unique style of filmmaking and the motivation behind his latest piece…
Nathan Emmanuel, also known under his stage name Nayshan, first came under our radar with a documentary he made a couple of years ago, entitled Paper Chasing. A project in which he blended journalistic filmmaking with a rap music video, combining his musical talent and media training into what he called a “rapumentary”. Recently, he released another one, in light of the Black Lives Matter movement, and has achieved notable success, even making it onto both the Solent and London branches of BBC Radio. But to find out the whole story, we pinned down the man himself to learn about his style, his careers in both music and journalism, and (while it really should go without saying) what inspired him to make his latest rapumentary, Thoughts of a Black Guy.
ARE YOU ORIGINALLY FROM THE BOURNEMOUTH AND POOLE AREA?
I am indeed — as touched upon in the documentary, I’m Bournemouth and Poole born and raised. I’m very proud of my St. Lucian heritage — there’s a big point in “Thoughts of a Black Guy” that I made, which is that I’m from here, but very often I get people assuming that I’m from elsewhere.
WHAT CAME FIRST? A DESIRE TO MAKE MUSIC, OR TO TELL REAL-WORLD STORIES?
I would say the love of storytelling is what you would notice as coming first, but the love of music has always been there. I have always wanted to produce and create music, and always enjoyed the art of music. So, as much as I am a trained journalist, and as such I can say that storytelling is in my blood — it’s my default setting — the music angle is my form of narrative; my way of being heard above the noise. Being different, being unique, being me, you know?
TELL ME A BIT MORE ABOUT YOUR EARLIER MUSIC CAREER…
The music started just before university, when I travelled Australia for a year. I toured with a DJ I worked with, helping with their videography and stuff. And obviously, when you’re touring with a DJ, music is instantly there. While travelling, I spent a lot of time playing the guitar, having little jam sessions in the hostels and things. So that’s where my improvised rap first started.
I came into music quite late, you could say, compared to other artists. Some of them generally a lot younger than I was, really. I wouldn’t say I started making music when I was younger – I was listening to it and was still part of the scene. Making music came when my mind was a bit older and wiser — having my own thoughts and finding how to say the things I wanted to say.
WHAT INSPIRED THE IDEA TO BLEND A RAP VIDEO AND A DOCUMENTARY INTO YOUR FIRST RAPUMENTARY?
Initially, that was through university. In my final year, I had to make either a presentation or a mini documentary piece. Now, me being me, living outside the box, I didn’t just want to make that regular documentary-style kind of thing, and talk about my so-called financial issues during university. I wanted to make it different; I wanted to put it in a narrative form that people are more likely to connect with and engage with. Something different that catches their eye a bit more, and that’s what really inspired the rapumentary style.
While at university my musical career was growing in the sense that I was working with my team, putting out a lot of music, running a lot of events. Going from there, I think it was the next step to turn it into a fully-fledged, respectable piece. And that became “Paper Chasing”. It was my initial leap into journalism and documentary making as one.
With “Paper Chasing”, I had to make sure I hit the right criteria that the university specified. And that’s the difference between it and “Thoughts of a Black Guy”. Because I really had free rein on “Thoughts of a Black Guy” – I didn’t have to make sure I had certain amounts of interviews in there, or that I was getting the relevant facts and figures in there to make it a documentary piece. Even though I still consider it a documentary, I wasn’t aiming for the higher levels of facts and things that were needed from a university course. “Paper Chasing” was that first sort of experiment into playing about with it. Seeing if I could get a story across without telling a story, per se. By just using the music and the creativity involved in rhyming words and spoken-word poetry to create that.
OBVIOUSLY, IT SHOULD GO WITHOUT SAYING THAT THE DEATH OF GEORGE FLOYD AND EVENTS BEFORE AND AFTER HAVE INSPIRED A LOT OF ANGER ACROSS THE WORLD. WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO THINK, “I NEED TO MAKE A DOCUMENTARY ABOUT THIS”?
I wouldn’t say it was the case that I saw this happen and it inspired me to think, “Here’s an issue that I really need to say something about.” That’s never been the case. This kind of thing is something that we’ve all been fighting for throughout the black community. Basically, it’s one of those fights that you’re born into. You don’t get a choice in it, and there’s a really good quote along similar lines, which is essentially, “As a white man, your history is what was chosen for you; as a black man, your history is what was assigned to you”. And I really think that homes in on the fact that Black Lives Matter is not something I even get a choice in – it’s something that has been going on for so long, and finally now, the white man is starting to listen. The voice is starting to get out there, and people are starting to hear and realise, “You know what? We are all the same!”
I think it’s a generational thing, for sure. As the generations shift, it’s really becoming a lot easier for a person of colour to get by in society nowadays. And I think that’s what’s really important. Much as George Floyd inspired this particular movement, I think this has been going on for a long, long time. There has been case after case in America, and you still hear of racism going on in parts of the UK. It has never stopped, but now the eyes are on it, and that’s what’s important. That’s what really inspired me to get my voice out there. It was an excuse for me to get my thoughts across, and I like that.
WHAT HAS THE REACTION TO “THOUGHTS OF A BLACK GUY” BEEN LIKE SO FAR?
Very positive. I was played on BBC Radio London this week and BBC Radio Solent last week, which was brilliant. I was really excited to have that out there, playing to a wider audience. London is probably the place where most people will connect with the piece, where it will have a bit of an impact.
I have had a lot of views — well over 20,000 on Instagram, so far. And everyone’s been really positive about it. I think people are enjoying hearing not only what I have to say, but hearing it in a way they’ve not necessarily come across before. A lot of people are commenting on the fact that it’s very unique — you don’t hear of rapumentaries being done, and it’s not a form of narrative that people generally tend to go for. It’s definitely not the easiest way to tell a story.
The whole way through, it was a case of making sure that I did my thoughts justice. I made it initially in two parts — Part One being set on the beach with the guy doing his speech — I put a very light rap over that, but I didn’t want to take away from the story itself and that was the part that set the context and the scene. Giving the audience an idea of not just my thoughts, but backing it up with the thoughts of another. And that was brilliant, because it gave me the platform to start my story process.
Part Two was the hard part. This was the part where I had to go and meet up with some friends in the park and just have a proper talk with them about it. Almost justify my thoughts to myself, in a way. During the storytelling process, I felt I had a duty of care, not just to the story I was telling, but also to my other brothers and sisters going through the same things I am; the same things that all people of colour across the world are going through. Making sure I was telling that story to a capacity that could be related to, even if it was just a tiny part of it. The touching of the hair, or having a black friend and using it as a Get Out Of Jail Free card, or whatever. If there was a part that everyone could touch on in some way, I thought that would be really good. To try and make it as open as possible. While also trying to keep it as non-condemning as possible. I didn’t want to put blame on anyone for what was and still is going on; I just wanted to show my stance on it.
YOU WERE DOWN AT THE BLM DEMONSTRATION ON BOURNEMOUTH PIER APPROACH EARLIER THIS MONTH. HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE THE EVENT ITSELF, AND THE ATMOSPHERE?
The atmosphere was sombre. But also electric. There was passion in the air – you could feel people were genuinely behind it and were genuinely there to hear what people had to say. And that’s thing thing – I wasn’t even intending to go to the event that day. As much as I was there to support my brothers and sisters, I wasn’t there in terms of doing the big march myself. I went there in a journalistic capacity – to observe and to watch. And in that regard, being there was a beautiful experience. It’s finally not seen as wrong for us to stand up and say, “You know what? I’m a person of colour… I’m black… I’m my own person, I’ve got these thoughts and that’s okay!” And people were there to listen. That’s big. For a person of colour to be able to stand up there in front of a bunch of black, white, whoever, and say, “This is what’s happening. I have felt uncomfortable my whole life. I have felt oppressed. I have felt like you look at me as a threat as I walk down the street. You cross the street sometimes when you see me.” To be able to say that and get those thoughts out — that’s powerful.
DO YOU INTEND TO STICK WITH MAKING RAPUMENTARIES? WHAT IS THE END GOAL FOR YOU?
I have always had one of those completely out-there end goals. Some would say it’s an end goal that’s difficult to achieve. For me, I love broadcast. I’ve always loved the idea of getting my name out there and actually doing something with it. Talking on matters that are important. Engaging with situations, finding out people’s thoughts. As cliché as it is, I want to make a difference. I want to use my energy and who I am to get out there, connect with and communicate with people, and change the way people see.
So, really, there is no specific end goal for me. With my music, I’m currently working on an EP. And that is not documentary or journalism-based — that’s just pure music. Not that I’m necessarily chasing that angle either. The ideal end goal would be getting a presenting or broadcasting slot, and just working up from there. Just seeing what happens. But I also want to work out a way to escape the cycle. People may see that as a challenge, and I’d say they’re right, to be honest! But I’d say it’s a challenge within my reach. I just have to chase my energy and do what feels right for me. It’s one of those situations where, if you want something enough, you’ll end up in the right place. Just a matter of finding that initial path and meeting the right person who will put you in contact with your future, essentially.
To view the full rapumentary Thoughts of a Black Guy by Nayshan, click here. For more stories surrounding entertainments, click here. And you can also follow HQB Media on all our social media channels: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and YouTube.