Nakhane treats live performance as theatre, and since moving to the UK, his theatricality has come out into the fore. Chatting just ahead of a trip back home for his You Will Not Die tour, he tells me that he feels different nationalities react differently to live music.
“Not everyone is demonstrative like South Africans. But they definitely let you know that the music is touching them.” He says that taught him to perform as if it is his last show even if he thought the audience didn’t like the show. “It’s theatre after all.”
Also part of his performativity has become expressing his blackness and queerness. Moving to London, away from the traditional noose that brought him so much hatred after his performance in Inxeba, Nakhane has had to negotiate both identities white spaces, but he feels he no longer cowers as he used to in his early 20s.” I take up space. I call bullshit when I smell it, even if it might be a bad move career-wise. It’s been my constitution since I was a child.”
“My report cards always came back at the end of the term saying: ‘Diligent, but prone to disruptive behaviour’.”
The move was not because of Inxeba, though and he was planning to stay for two months but then decided to stay for a year on tour. Then another year. He says he’s still not sure how long he’ll stay up north.
So much has happened since Inxeba. “I recorded You Will Not Die and John Cameron Mitchell’s Anthem: Homunculus podcast musical. Then I went on tour for about two years. It’s been busy. But I like being busy. If I stay still for too long I start to feel vertiginous.”
Although South Africa is still Nakhane’s largest market, Europe has been good to him. “I’m loathed to say that I’m more accepted here than in South Africa. I think the growth in my career has been organic. On some level, I like being away from home because I have a little distance from it and can try to be objective about certain things.”
“On the other hand … I’m away, so I miss things and people,” he says. “South Africans are honest. If you’re shit, you’re shit. If you’re great, then you’re great. I love that. I’ve been telling myself to stop thinking about the future and be in the moment.”
Even though he’s been somewhat typecast as a queer black artist, Nakhane and I have had these conversations about the fact that these are parts of his identity that cannot be denied but “I feel a little reluctant to say I represent people,” he says. “Individuals should always speak for themselves.”
“I still believe that representation is important, and I still identify as a black queer person.” Nakhane is always questioning and says queerness is about curiosity.
Coming home for this tour, he talks me through the album, You Will Not Die, and says while he’s unsure about whether it’s a concept album, he knew from the beginning that there were certain themes he wanted to explore. “With Brave Confusion, I just picked the best songs I had written up until then.”
“What was really important for this album was to write an album that touched on all the highlights of my life – be it positive or negative. That, of course, meant that I had to write about my family and the places that I grew up in. The tricky part was to find language and music that wasn’t full of bile.”
Musically, he says harmonies were important, stacks and stacks of voices were important because I grew up around 60 voice choirs. It was to be ornate and rococo and sung almost floridly. It was difficult to get it all just right.”
He says The Laughing Son EP was definitely a conceptual work. “Every song was written in the same key, it was following a narrative.”
After the tour, Nakhane says there are a new film and album coming out next year. “The music is going to be sexier and uptempo, but also – and I couldn’t help this – existentialist.”
Nakhane’s South African leg of the You Will Not Die tour takes place from November 28 to 30. Click here more information or to buy tickets.