Samson Kambalu: Artist & Writer


Our latest Q&A feature is with artist and writer Samson Kambalu. His book The Jive Talker was voted favourite in the National Book Token’s Global Read campaign on the 13th May, signifying that Kambalu’s work is the most talked about ‘Global Read’ – a book that changed a reader’s perception of another country or introduced them to a different culture. The book has also been highly praised by critics – Aminatta Forna (Sunday Telegraph) called it an “African memoir unlike any other… a magnificent achievement” and Marina Lewycka commented that the book explores its subject “with great humour and poignancy”.

The Jive Talker, or How to Get a British Passport is a completely original, often subversive book about Samson Kambulu’s childhood in Malawi, a country few are able to pinpoint on a map, which displays Africa in a different light for many readers. Litro caught up with Samson for a Q&A on art, writing, childhood and Nietzsche.

 What is your earliest childhood memory?

A round worm slapping my bottom side to side as it came out of me.

What makes you happy?

Any book by Nietzsche intermitted by an aimless kick about with a football plastered with the pages of the Bible in my studio.

When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?

I didn’t. Writing has always haunted me since I learnt the alphabet but I did decide to become an artist as a preteen, in an Arithmetic class. We were learning how to read clock faces. The teacher said my clock faces looked really good.

What are you reading at the moment?

A biography of Kate Moss called Sex, Drugs and a Rock Chick by Brandon Hurst and Beverley Mason.

What advice will you give to a first time writer?

You will have to feel the book in your veins first, all of it. Then grab a notebook and take notes.

 What is your guiltiest pleasure?

A bottle of Chateauneuf Du Pape while watching Apocalypse Now for the 150th time.

How do you relax?

Pornography, otherwise I am always thinking, seeing things. When I sleep I have very complicated dreams and nightmares.

What is your favourite Book?

The Bible (King James Version). It’s the sickest book you will ever read, incredibly deranged. On the flip side of it is Nietzsche who I think is equally good, if not better. I would also throw in Bataille’s The Accursed Share just to put it all in perspective.

What is the most important thing life has taught you?

The world is an open field.

Samson Kambalu

Samson Kambalu was born in Malawi in 1975. He holds degrees in Fine Art and Ethnomusicology and is the recipient of several awards for his work ‘Holy Ball Exercises and Exorcisms’. He lives in London.

The Jive Talker, or How to Get a British Passport is a completely original, often subversive book about Samson Kambalu’s childhood in Malawi, a country few are able to pinpoint on a map. As the family moves through a journey from feast to poverty and deprivation, and back to plenty again, the reader is introduced to life in a country in which no dissent is tolerated and where political opponents are ‘disappeared’. But this is also a country in which a little boy obsessed with books, girls, Nietzsche, fashion, football and Michael Jackson wins a free education at the Kamuzu Academy and grows up to be one of England’s most promising young conceptual artists. The Jive Talker opens the door to an Africa that is rarely talked about.

Global Reads was launched by National Book Tokens as part of the campaign to launch its new Gift Card to raise £10,000 for Book Aid International. This would be enough money to distribute 5,000 books across 12 countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

Leave a Comment