Going where others dare not tread has earned the artist international acclaim.
London - Preparing for the Film Africa festival and to play at a Shoreditch club next Sunday has kept singer and movie star Nakhane’s schedule so busy he hardly had time for coffee.
Nakhane will be the toast of London next Friday, when his debut film Inxeba – The Wound opens Film Africa, a 10-day festival at the British Film Institute (BFI) alongside the Thames. He will be a guest of honour at the gala opening night, where he will field media questions after the screening.
The 29-year-old spoke to City Press in London, where he recorded his latest album called You Will Not Die. The title song is a reflection on his grapples with death.
“I used to be in a face-off with death; I used to be afraid of death,” he said.
“Then my death was revealed to me in a dream. This is preferable, for I am a control freak.”
He has also been very busy holding auditions to form a band. Together they will play at the Film Africa festival and at a Shoreditch club. He has been staying in a flat in trendy Dalston in East London for the past month.
“I love Dalston! I’m really happy here; it is diverse with a big queer scene. I’ve found my local gay club, my local coffee shop, and a Turkish restaurant for chicken and salads, and stuffed aubergine after rehearsals,” he said.
Nakhane’s new album, recorded with British producer Ben Christophers, who is known for working with English singer Bat for Lashes, will be released in February next year. It will symbolise a 30th birthday present from him to himself. The artist from Alice in the Eastern Cape, who has officially ditched his surname Touré when performing, will turn 30 on 3 February.
He released the steamy video of his first single, Clairvoyant, from the album on YouTube last month. It shows two men kissing in a soft-lit apartment. It received a largely positive response, with some online users calling him an “African queer positive pioneer”.
“The video shows two queer black men in an apartment doing what people do over weekends. I wanted to normalise that,” he said.
Nakhane said while film reviews comparing The Wound to Hollywood blockbusters Brokeback Mountain and Moonlight were flattering, this movie was different in that it dealt with the very specific issue of South African initiation.
The feature film – a love story with a twist – was helmed by local director John Trengove, who relied on his cast for insight into the traditional initiation rite. Nakhane said the filmmaking process was “very collaborative”.
The Wound has won a string of awards, including the highly competitive Best First Feature Award at the BFI London Film Festival last weekend. It is also South Africa’s official submission in the foreign language Oscar Awards 2018 race. While eliciting critical acclaim at film festivals, The Wound has sparked controversy and even death threats in South Africa, with detractors furious over its depiction of circumcision, or ulwaluko.
“At home, the film’s been getting a really harsh backlash,” said Nakhane. “It’s all been really personal, death threats against me personally. Quite descriptive threats: ‘I hope you die of aids’ and ‘No wonder, what do we expect from a homosexual?’
“This was to be expected, it’s because I am gay, and because the film deals with same-sex desire, and also the taboo subject of ulwaluko.”
However, not all the feedback in South Africa is negative.
“There’s been an overwhelmingly positive response too, especially from the black feminist movement,” said Nakhane.
He told City Press that, in his mind, his art does not stand in conflict with his traditional Xhosa roots.
“No, they all feed into each other,” he explained.
“After I left the Christian faith and became apostate, I became deeply involved in Xhosa spirituality. My aunt is a sangoma and for me, that feeds into every part of who I am as an artist, as a singer, a writer, an actor – because I believe my ancestors are with me all the time and I strongly believe with every fibre of my being that I am doing good for my culture.”
Asked what the drawback was of spending so much time in London chasing tight deadlines and honouring schedules, he said he was missing his boyfriend back home in South Africa. But Nakhane said his man, whom he did not want to name, will join him for a while in London at the end of the month.