Q&A | Nakhane
Nakhane, at 31, is uprooting the cultural and musical expectations within the alternative genre. A native of South Africa, he came out to his Christian church at age 19, ultimately renouncing his religion to embrace his identity after years of conversion therapy. Touching on these experiences, Nakhane’s album, You Will Not Die, incorporates both his past life and present, merging the two to create an ethereal composition.
Though it dropped last year in Europe, You Will Not Die was re-released in late February with five new tracks. In branching out to other endeavors, Nakhane wrote the novel, Piggy Boy’s Blues, which speaks to homosexuality within his Xhosa community, and took a leading role in The Wound, an Oscar-shortlisted film. To say the least, Nakhane is multifaceted within creative realms. Flaunt caught up with him to talk artistic influences, his video for “New Brighton” and a few anticipated projects in the coming months.
"All the seraphim and all the cherubim;" What does this motif mean to you?
In the song it’s followed by a question: “Did they avert their eyes?” I remember when I wrote it. I was waiting for my aunt to come out of the pharmacy, and one of her gospel CDs was playing in the car. The song had that line - It’s ubiquitous in sacred Christian music - and I loved how it sounded. But it also got me thinking: These angels, these messengers, these mediators; where were they when terrible things like slavery, apartheid and the holocaust, were happening?
How does your childhood in South Africa compare to your present-day in London?
My childhood in SA was all about music. I remember waking up very early to catch the first bus so I could get to school an hour before the bell rang. I would spend that time in the steel band room, practicing, playing music. My mother used to worry about me because I didn't have friends in my neighbourhood. All my friends were in school, in the band or in the choir.
On some level nothing has changed. I'm older and I have a career, but my life still revolves around art.
Do you hope to bring gender politics to the mainstream?
I don’t. I don’t because it’s always been there. I’m just swimming in the slipstream of giants, and I’m learning as I go. We are legion. And no one’s oppression can wait.
How has the Xhosa community impacted your musical influences?
In almost every single way. It was my community that encouraged and empowered my talent for singing. I was taught so much from such a young age. I still think of people who may have died who were some of the best singers I have ever heard in my entire life. My mother and I used to discuss how singers like Pavarotti didn’t have shit on the singers we had at home.
What concepts inspired your latest song and video release, New Brighton feat. ANOHNI?
I’m going to answer that with a quote from the director, Iggy LDN. He says: “The video is about being completely alone in a foreign place and trying to figure out your identity to get closer to home, wherever that may be. It was really interesting because I wanted the video to be close to Nakhane’s own upbringing as well as his identity. We used references synonymous with his childhood and explored religious and non-religious symbols to reflect his viewpoints.”
What can we look forward to in your upcoming months?
I initially thought that I would just be writing, and maybe touring a bit. But some amazing projects have been brought to me. And they are so delicious that I cannot say no. One that I can talk about is a musical podcast by John Cameron Mitchell called Anthem: Homonculus. It’s insane really. The cast includes Glenn Close, Cynthia Erivo, Ben Foster, Patti Lupone. It’s a riot!
Photography by: Tom Cadogan
Introduction by: Elizabeth Pagano