As a multidisciplinary artist, it’s hard to peg Nakhane to one artform.
We met Nakhane for the first time last year when he and director John Trengrove brought their film The Wound, which Nakhane starred in and which was short-listed for an Oscar nomination, to Berlinale. Since then Nakhane has taken a break from acting and touring the festival circuit to focus on his music.
We spoke to him ahead of the launch of his newest album, a visceral and soulful collection of tracks, called “You Will Not Die”.
The last time we spoke was during Berlinale. The film ‘The Wound’ was quite controversial in South Africa. How was it received in Europe?
The film has been received very well by European audiences. I suppose for that audience the film is less personal than it is artistic. And they’re not particularly invested in the culture, so they enjoy the film for what it is. Having said that, as much as the film was controversial in South Africa, it also had a lot of support. It has an audience that has received it very passionately.
It was recently given an X18 rating, the same as hardcore porn, and labelled as “culturally insensitive” despite featuring a cast of entirely Xhosa actors. What was your response?
My response was emotional. When I found out about the ruling I had nothing ‘intelligent’ to say. All I had was a violent disturbance in my viscera. A feeling that I was going to vomit. I was upset and I am still upset. We are appealing, of course.
There was also a certain backlash from within the Xhosa community. As a Xhosa man yourself, has this affected your relationship with the community?
Not exactly. I made a joke about this when someone on Twitter said that I was still patriotic even after what happened. I said that when I was in school and one person misbehaved in class, I used to get really pissed off when the teacher punished everyone in class. Why should the actions of one person affect those who have done nothing. And it’s similar in this situation.
I love my community. It made me. It gave me my identity. I would never turn my back on it because a portion of it hates me. That’s their shit. They don’t have to love me. They never did anyway. But those that do, I love them back. And they are as much of the community as the others.
Now you’re in Berlin to discuss your album, “You Will Not Die.” What themes or messages are you looking to shine through it?
No messages. This is art and not a lecture or a dissertation.
The album deals with these themes: apostasy, my formative years, growing up in the Eastern Cape in South Africa, being in a long-term relationship and the complex nature of making that decision, love, sex, joy. I’ve been describing it to my friends as “Trauma, but make it fashion”.
The most recent single, “Presbyteria”, is slow, thoughtful and intimate, especially compared with the upbeat first single, “Clairvoyant”. Can you explain its conception?
Strangely enough I initially wrote “Presbyteria” as an upbeat song. I wanted it to sound like “It” by Prince. The decision was made to slow it right down for a number of reasons: with what I was trying to say, the melody and words were not coming across strongly enough. Everything seemed rushed and, well, sloppy.
When it was slowed down and the recording with Ben Christophers began, it was clear that we wanted a choir in there. It made sense to me, even though one could have seen it as quite obvious that a song about growing up in the Presbyterian church should have a choir. You know, to take it to the angels, to elevate it. The song is about me as an adult looking back at that time in my life and understanding that as much as some of it was painful, the people meant well. They did the best they could. It’s a love song to the people and places that defined me in my formative years.
Since relocating to London have you found differences between the music business there vs. South Africa?
The only difference is that I’m working with a bigger company, so the infrastructure is different. I’m working with more people. There’s more to be done. I don’t know how much of that has to do with me being in London, as opposed to Johannesburg. I’ve always wanted to be busy. I like it.
Do you feel that African musicians are fairly represented on a global scale?
Not in mainstream music, no. And I feel that’s because of that awful tag, “World Music”. The moment some people see that, they already assume certain things about the music which may not necessarily be true. But hopefully it’s starting to change. I love seeing the likes of WizKid and Davido blowing up.
Do you have any ideas how you could go about changing that?
Me? I’m a 30 year old upstart. I don’t know how to change anything.
What’s on the cards for the future? Any plans to return to Berlin?
Definitely coming back to Berlin. I’m going on tour. That’s really all I want to do. I love playing live. I also want to do more films and write more books.