Summoning the prowess of Grace Jones, the otherworldliness of David Bowie and the sexual energy of Prince, Nakhane is an enigmatic performer that you must get to know
Walking on to the tiny stage in St James’s Church, Dingle, a stage that’s broadcast to the world via the RTÉ show Other Voices, Nakhane summons the prowess of Grace Jones, the otherworldliness of David Bowie and the sexual energy of Prince. The South African singer, actor and novelist released their debut album You Will Not Die
earlier this year and, like the music of Jones, Bowie and Prince, it’s an album that makes you want to dance, cry and educate yourself. Nakhane’s set at Other Voices
achieved all of those things.
Identifying as gender neutral on their Facebook page and wearing Blade sunglasses, a 1980s power suit with a leather harness on over a bare chest underneath, the 30-year-old doesn’t shy away from being themselves. This self-assurance is something that enraged a lot of people in their hometown, contributing to the artist’s move from South Africa to London. With music so tragically sad and rhythms so deeply moving, if you overlooked
You Will Not Die this year, now is your chance to make amends and to make Nakhane your VBF.
Using religious, ancient Roman and mythic references in songs about sexual desire, love, survival, pain and isolation, Nakhane’s lyricism is heavy but its delivery is so straightforward that there’s no doubting the sincerity. Working a guitar with frenzied bursts like St Vincent, the song’s “gladiatorial” narrator finds strength in love on
Clairvoyant, even if this love makes them do risky things. “Love does not make me clairvoyant, all I know is how to be your servant,” goes the chorus, laying it all down before comparing themselves to a “gambling lamb” acting in their love’s honour. Nakhane paints the struggle of standing up for love so eloquently even when the world you live in rejects you for who you are.
Nakhane’s portrayal of a gay man – a gay man who is a member of the Xhosa tribe – in John Trengove’s The Wound resulted in some near-violent backlash in South Africa. As seen in an interview with the Guardian’s Tshepo Mokoena, up against this immediate threat to their life, Nakhane displays an incredible resilience and strength of character. “It was interesting for my own people to describe in great detail how they wanted to kill me,” they told Mokoena. “But some of the descriptions were so poetic that I was like: ‘Hey, people can write. They can write, eh?’” This role won Nakhane the Palm Springs International Film Festival and South African Film and Television Awards for best actor this year.
Now living in east London’s trendy neighbourhood of Dalston, Nakhane exudes in interviews an air that is warm, inviting and bubbly. Onstage, they are soft spoken but insanely grateful for having such a captive audience but . . . sitting at the piano for You Will Not Die, they hold the starkest of emotions in one long, piercing note and it’s impossible to break your tearful gaze with this enigmatic performer. Introducing the band, we meet drummer Keir Adamson and guitarist Charlotte Hatherley, who some people might remember from playing with the Northern Irish band Ash. Hatherley is now Nakhane’s musical director. As an artist, Nakhane has a profound way with words – they published their debut novel Piggy Boy’s Blues in 2015 – but just like Jones, Bowie and Prince, they don’t give it all away at once. They are an artist with so much to say and so much to explore. You Will Not Die is just the start and hopefully their Other Voices performance isn’t their last visit to Ireland. ■ Nakhane’sOtherVoices performancewillbeairedonRTÉTwo earlyin2019.