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Nakhane: the South African songbird soaring high

By Alison Hird, Isabelle Martinetti

South African singer-songwriter and actor Nakhane burst onto the European scene in December 2017 at the TransMusicales festival in the French town of Rennes where he was given carte blanche five nights in a row. The LGBTQ trailblazer with the heavenly voice seems set for stardom. He talks to RFI about starring in the award-winning but controversial film The Wound and "queering" religion on his new album You will not die.

"The song You will not die is about abandonement," says Nakhane, "because I was raised by my aunt and her husband and it’s looking at my biological parents and saying 'you know what I didn’t die. It hurt, messed up with me psychologically maybe, but I didn’t die. Look at me now'."

Nakhane grew up in the Presbyterian church in Port Elisabeth. For years he tried to hide his homosexuality but finally embraced it in his early 20s. He was ex-communicated in 2014.

"[The song's] also about apostacy, me leaving the church, and being able to look at it now and going ‘this doesn’t hurt anymore’."

"Trauma but make it fashion!" he says. "It hurts, but at least I got a song out of it."

Nakhane at TransMusicales festival in Rennes. ©Bastien-Brun

Existing in a space that doesn't want me

The song Interloper, about jealousy, is accompanied by a glam rock video in which the singer is surrounded by hoards of adoring fans dressed in church robes struggling to caress his bare chest.

"I wanted to show a sense of power [...] playing with this idea of a gay Messiah. Or this whole idea of being desired to the point that people consume you."

Subverting the religion that rejected him? Not exactly.

"I’m queering religion, inserting queerness into spaces where queerness is sometimes seen as the other or something that’s perverse," he explains. "And I’m allowing myself to exist in a space that does not want me. Putting myself in a place of power, a place where I don’t need someone to clap their hands for me or accept me."

On the song Clairvoyant he explores an adult gay relationship. The video shows a gay couple hanging out at the weekend, embracing, arguing. It's a "nuanced approach you don't often find in pop", an attempt to "normalise gay relations" says Nakhane.

The Wound

Nakhane has also recently won four awards for his leading role in The Wound, a film exploring the taboo of being a young gay man in the Xhosa community to which he belongs.

The film was banned for a while and led to months of protests all over the Cape. The singer received death threats and is now based in London.

Watch the video to hear why he believes the film's detractors are wrong.

 

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