Reading out a list of Nakhane’s achievements is a daunting experience.
An incredible singer, a powerful songwriter, he’s also noted for his acting and has penned a full-length novel. It’s just as well the person behind the name is such a warm, inviting, open, and self-effacing personality.
“I’m just greedy, aren’t I?” he says, his voice chuckling and the ice between us breaking. “It’s like, somebody stop that guy!”
Thankfully, any artistic intervention is a long way off. A bold, devoutly independent voice, new album ‘You Will Not Die’ is a marvel, an inspired, soulful work that tackles identity, gender, sexuality, religion, and more in a stunning, colourful, riveting fashion
. It’s an independence which is innate, but something that has also been encouraged. Nakhane recently shared a video on his Instagram of a childhood performance in his native South Africa – the voice, the daring, the space to call his own, is all there.
“That was actually my first proper performance in public onstage,” he tells Clash. “My first solo. And I remember that day… I remember very, very clearly that day deciding I would do that for the rest of my life.”
“I guess from a very young age I showed a talent, and a real, real interest in singing,” he continues. “I don’t know how much it had to do with singing, or the fact that I really loved my mother, my aunts, and everyone… The women in my family. I guess because they were singing all the time it made sense for me to be interested in singing.”
- - -
- - -
It’s a double-edged sword, though; always encouraged, Nakhane has always been in a race with those around him. “My mum and I are still very competitive,” he sighs. “She sends me voicemails on Whatsapp singing my old songs saying she should have recorded them because she does them better!”
“I was lucky, and I still am very, very lucky… my mother never forced me to get a ‘proper job’ because – for some reason – she had irrational faith in my talent. Even when I was unsure. There were times when things really weren’t going well and I thought it might not happen but my mother always thought that it would. I believed her.”
‘You Will Not Die’ is a document driven by incredible self-belief. There are references to Marvin Gaye, to James Baldwin, to South African jazz, to club culture; it’s an astonishing broad yet also incredible concise aesthetic experience. Music, then, means an enormous amount in his life.
It’s a role, though, which has changed remarkably. Brought up in a religious household, Nakhane realised he was gay from a young age, but began to suppress his feelings, unable to really reveal who he was – even to himself.
“I think it played a really big role in my depression,” he states. “I was diagnosed with depression. Late on in my life. And I guess it was all that pent up negativity. Every waking moment in your life, everything in your dreams… you’re living in denial. Your sub-conscious is fucked up – not only your conscious.”
“When you walk into a room and you see a cute guy you have to look away because there’s something there and you don’t want the Devil to have the opportunity, to tempt you.”
“So the question is, can I experience happiness? I can, but it’s in stolen moments… and I guess that’s why music became so important. And reading. And watching films. You find happiness in other things. You find happiness in Marvin Gaye, in the idea that James Baldwin can exist, or Toni Morrison. I’m one of those people who pushes heavy moments in their life away, but looking back now I’m a safe distance away I realise how toxic it was.”
Eventually taking the decision to come out, to embrace who he truly was, Nakhane has never looked back. A warm, vibrant, open, and hugely engaging personality, each word of our conversation seems to grab something from life, each sentence is an act of joy and release.
“I’ve always been a late bloomer, but there’s been nothing I’ve been more late for than actually living,” he continues. “I’ve spent so much of my time worried about the next life, worried about going to heaven, worried about making sure that I don’t go to hell. And now, and now… I’ve become uncompromisingly pleasure seeking.”
“I’m really trying to experience everything that I can and embrace knowledge… because, as far as I know, this is the only world that we have. I know that it sounds very trite on some level, but for someone who hasn’t really enjoyed it for a long, long time, and has only really found freedom in the past year and a half… I’m still new to it! It’s so visceral. The idea of just enjoying life is so fresh, and when I’m onstage or when I experience music in any capacity that’s a moment of complete freedom. I feel like I levitate.”
- - -
- - -
It’s this spirit which drives ‘You Will Not Die’. Although aspects fall down into the depths – with experiences like his, how could you not? - it never fails to soar back up, clutching on to this insatiable drive for freedom both personal and aesthetic.
“You know what?” he says at one point. “I don’t care what you think or where you’re going. If you like it and you believe in it and you think I should hear it because you put your heart into it then fucking do it.”
“I feel like I’ve moved on from these ideas of ‘real music’ or ‘authenticity’ and moved to a place where I just want to experience something that is true,” he insists. “And art is so subjective. You can say you don’t like something, but you can’t say it’s inauthentic because it doesn’t have certain instruments.”
“Words are historical, words have meaning because they’re imbued with history, and prejudices, and power. So I’m always very, very careful when I use certain words. Words like ‘authentic’ have this weird, religious undertone to it, and this moralistic undertone. It’s rubbed me up the wrong way. I used to track and use electronics and a keyboard, and people said: get a band! Is that the only reason they want me to have a band? Not for musical reasons, but because that’s how their father did, that’s how their friends do it? That’s not a good enough reason.”
A wonderfully free-flowing yet continually riveting experience, ‘You Will Not Die’ is a powerful statement, one that enraptures at every turn. Prompted by a movement away from religion, we can’t help but ask about his own beliefs, and how they have evolved over time.
“I suppose I personally cannot be athiest at this point in my life,” he sighs. “Who knows? Maybe in 10 years time I’ll think: fuck this shit, actually! I’ve been lying to myself for 40 years! But for now… I’m on a spiritual adventure, y’know? Without going crazy.”
Nakhane’s artistic adventure has already been enthralling; capable of excelling in virtually every medium we can name, we close by asking what will come next – another film role? A novel? Or his next album?
“They’re all going to happen. I don’t know in what order,” he admits. “It’s sit down, and plug in. I can’t do more than one thing at a time. Some days music will be music. Other days I’ll work on a novel. I know I can only work on one thing at a time, and it will tell me what to do when I’m ready.”
- - -
- - -
'You Will Not Die' is out now.
Join us on Vero, as we get under the skin of global cultural happenings. Follow Clash Magazine as we skip merrily between clubs, concerts, interviews and photo shoots. Get backstage sneak peeks and a true view into our world as the fun and games unfold.