Nakhane is an undeniably phenomenal talent; an actor, author and musician who has drawn deserved plaudits for pretty much anything they've turned their hand to. In the summer of 2019, the biggest buzz was about their music, and it is that for which they joined us in August that year, performing as part of Nile Rodgers’ Meltdown.
Nakhane’s 2019 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 they now call London home, Nakhane was born in Alice, a small town in South Africa’s Eastern Cape. At seven-years-old they were adopted by their aunt – a woman they consider as their mother – and moved to Port Elizabeth where they lived until moving to Johannesburg at 15. Here, growing up in a conservative family in the Jo’burg Bible Belt, Nakhane had known they were gay for some time before coming out to their friends and cousins at the age of 17, and being outed to the rest of their family at 19.
In the years that followed Nakhane would find it increasingly difficult to define their sexuality; torn between the queerness with which they had long identified – and finally felt able to grip after reading the works of James Baldwin – and the conservatism of the church through which they had been raised. They eventually felt the pressure to bow to the latter, joining a strongly conservative Baptist Church they backed into the closet, but the internal wrestling over their sexual identity continued.
At the age of 25 Nakhane released their 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 their album one of South Africa’s biggest television channels made a documentary about them, which resulted in the church to which Nakhane belonged telling them they needed to repent or be excommunicated. With no interest in repenting for their music or theirself, Nakhane stepped away from the church and re-embraced their sexuality, taking the opportunity to assert theirself in their own distinct light.
Since the release of Brave Confusion, Nakhane’s career has gone from strength to strength, and not just musically. In 2015 they published their 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. They have 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 their community as they head into the rural mountains to initiate a group of teenage boys into manhood. Nakhane’s portrayal saw them win multiple Best Actor awards, including those given by the Durban International Film Festival, and Palm Springs International Film Festival.
In early 2019 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 their life and follows their 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.
Nakhane wsn’t the only artist on the 2019 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 played host to electronic producer, singer, songwriter and DJ, SOPHIE, who brought 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.’
Later that summer we also welcomed Peaches back to our 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 featured 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.
The show must go on(line)
Sadly, for everyone’s safety, our venues are currently closed. But you can still get your Southbank Centre fix online. We will continue to share inspiring and thought-provoking arts stories through our website and social channels.
As a charity, we rely on ticket sales for a huge chunk of our income. But now they’ve stopped. And it's a huge worry to us, and the people we work with. We all need the escape of art and culture; it can inspire and unite us. So please – if you can afford to – consider a donation to the Southbank Centre today, to help us be there for you in the future.