Nakhane is an undeniably phenomenal talent; an actor, author and musician who has drawn deserved plaudits for pretty much anything he’s turned his hand to. Right now, the biggest buzz is about his music, and it is that for which he joined us in August, performing as part of Nile Rodgers’ Meltdown.
Nakhane’s latest album, You Will Not Die, a diversion into a new electronic sound, was viewed by the singer as something of a rebirth, and its reviews certainly back up that sense of a bright new coming. It has been described as ‘remarkable’ (Q Magazine), ‘an instant revelation’ and ‘strikingly intimate’ (Pitchfork), and ‘a blissful, remarkably assured piece of creativity’ (Clash Music). High and deserving praise for a release which was crowned Best Alternative Album at the 2019 South African Music Awards.
Though he now calls London home, Nakhane was born in Alice, a small town in South Africa’s Eastern Cape. At seven-years-old he was adopted by his aunt – a woman he considers as his mother and calls her as such – and moved to Port Elizabeth where he would live until moving to Johannesburg at 15. Here, growing up in a conservative family in the Jo’burg Bible Belt, Nakhane had known he was gay for some time before coming out to his friends and cousins at the age of 17, and being outed to the rest of his family at 19.
In the years that followed Nakhane would find it increasingly difficult to define his sexuality; torn between the queerness with which he had long identified – and finally felt able to grip after reading the works of James Baldwin – and the conservatism of the church through which he had been raised. He eventually felt the pressure to bow to the latter, joining a strongly conservative Baptist Church he backed into the closet, but the internal wrestling over his sexual identity continued.
At the age of 25 Nakhane released his debut album, the acoustic guitar backed Brave Confusion, an apt title for an album which explored race, religion and sexuality through its lyrics. On release of his album one of South Africa’s biggest television channels made a documentary about him, which resulted in the church to which Nakhane belonged telling him he needed to repent or he would be excommunicated. With no interest in repenting for his music or his self, Nakhane stepped away from the church and re-embraced his sexuality, taking the opportunity to assert himself in his own distinct light.
Since the release of Brave Confusion, Nakhane’s career has gone from strength to strength, and not just musically. In 2015 he published his debut novel Piggy Boy’s Blues, a portrayal of a Xhosa royal family, which was duly nominated for the Barry Ronge Fiction Prize and the Etisalat Prize for Fiction. He has also stepped emphatically into acting, playing the lead role of factory worker Xolani in John Treengrove’s powerful Inxeba (2017), which follows Xolani and the men of his community as they head into the rural mountains to initiate a group of teenage boys into manhood. Nakhane’s portrayal saw him win multiple Best Actor awards, including those given by the Durban International Film Festival, and Palm Springs International Film Festival.
Earlier this year Queerty, marking the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, named Nakhane as one of their Pride50; ‘trailblazing individuals who actively ensure society remains moving towards equality, acceptance and dignity for all queer people’. It’s an accolade which serves as yet another mark of the self-assuredness with which Nakhane now lives his life and follows his creative path. And the results of this continued journey of self definition – be they on microphone, or on camera – are thankfully out there for all of us to enjoy.
Sadly Meltdown festival – at which Nahkane performed – is now over for this year. But throughout the year Southbank Centre presents live contemporary music gigs and performances that blur genre boundaries and showcase the best new sounds from across the globe.
Nakhane isn’t the only artist on the Meltdown festival bill to push at the boundaries of assumed gender and sexuality. The night after Nakhane’s Purcell Room performance the Royal Festival Hall stage plays host to electronic producer, singer, songwriter and DJ, SOPHIE, who brings her acclaimed debut album, Oil of Every Pearl's Un-Insides to life.
SOPHIE had long remained anonymous, often concealing her identity in interviews by masking her voice or covering parts of herself. But in the music video for her 2017 single, ‘It's Okay to Cry’, she appeared on camera unobscured as a trans woman for the first time. In an interview with Paper magazine Sophie described transness as “taking control to bring your body more in line with your soul and spirit so the two aren't fighting against each other and struggling to survive… you're an individual who's looking at the world and feeling the world”.
SOPHIE performed at Southbank Centre as part of Nile Rodgers’ Meltdown on Saturday 10 August.
Later in August we welcome Peaches to Royal Festival Hall, for the UK premiere of her remarkable show, There’s Only One Peach with the Hole in the Middle. A pioneering musician and artist, Peaches has created a comprehensive oeuvre that focuses on music, performance and cross-media practices, bringing sex-positive feminism into the nightclubs and concert halls of the world.
Inspired by the 1970s variety shows of LGBTQI+ icons such as Bette Midler and Liza Minnelli, There’s Only One Peach with the Hole in the Middle features costumes by avant hair and fashion designer Charlie Le Mindu and special guests including Berlin-based sound and movement artists Hyenaz and London-based aerial performer Empress Stah.
There’s Only One Peach with the Hole in the Middle comes to Southbank Centre on Wednesday 28 August.