Film / TVMusic

afropunk interview: nakhane

July 13, 2018
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Nakhane Touré is striking, in looks and in presence. His eyes are piercing — at the camera, past the lens, and directly into the soul of the observer, which they seem to detect. In the music video for “Interloper,” the sultry electric groover that dropped as a single this past March, it is Nakhane’s eyes that arrest you underneath the blue light. Yet it is the music that ensures that you keep dancing.

Nakhane is a 30 year-old South African musician and actor. He first broke through with his award-winning 2013 debut album, Brave Confusion, which introduced not only his sensual brand of dance music, but also a uniquely strong songwriting voice that exhibited both a proud queer identity and the church-music tradition he grew up with in Port Elizabeth. It is a balance reminiscent of Prince and Sylvester, masters of musically blending the explicit and the holy. Nakhane’s second album, You Will Not Die, strengthens all these elements. The music is thoughtful and cool without compromising one to achieve the other.

Yet he may now be better known for his acting. Nakhane starred in the 2017 film, The Wound, about being both gay and part of the Xhosa community, one of South Africa’s largest ethnic populations that is also quite socially conservative. His role garnered both critical praise and public backlash from many in South Africa who were offended by the idea of homosexuality being associated with their community in any way. He has dealt with everything from mild criticism for the role to death threats. But Nakhane’s marriage to the art he creates is admirable and illustrates the rebellion that ia a thread through all of his work.

Having debuted at AFROPUNK in Johannesburg in December 2017, Nakhane will now be taking the AFROPUNK stages in Paris this weekend and in Brooklyn in August. (At Commodore Barry Park, he will part of a great contingent of South African artists, that also includes DJ Lag, OK Zharp & Manthe Ribane and Sho Madjozi.) And Nakhane’s presence at AFROPUNK couldn’t be any more appropriate. He aligns with the rebellious and conscious spirit of the event, and he is on the cutting edge of what is culturally innovative. Nakhane Touré caught up with us to talk music, sexuality, and freedom.

Often when someone is of a marginalized identity, they feel a responsibility to that community. Do you feel this? If so, how do you deal with this and still create the art you desire?

I’m not sure if responsibility is the word I would use. On some level – even if it may come across as selfish – the only responsibility I have is to myself. I’m worried about setting myself as some sort of presbyter. “Feeling a responsibility” implies that I have some wisdom that others may not. Believe me, I don’t. I’m fumbling my way through life like everybody else.

You are known for both film and music. What are the differences? What are the similarities?

They’re all mediums of expression. They’re all mediums that can be used to interrogate the human condition. For me, I see the three mediums that I have been involved in (music, literature and film) as Christians see the trinity: They are one, but they play different roles. They have one motive but they get to that motive in different ways.

The music coming from South Africa is becoming globally recognized. How do you feel about this?

Finally! We’ve BEEN fucking amazing. I don’t know why it’s taken the world so long. That’s a bad joke. But we’re not the first artists from South Africa to be recognised. It just comes in waves, and we’re this generation’s wave. It’s exciting. Looking back at the different generations and how the world reacted to them; how different things were and how others have refused to change. What I’m passionate about is the work. And I think that’s what everybody is passionate about. We must continue working hard and encouraging each other.

How do you feel about the spreading of South African culture and music considering you’ve dealt with such backlash because of your openness about your community?

If you look at the history of human beings; they’ve always thrived when they collaborated with other peoples. It’s only when one nation believes that it’s better than the other that it all goes to shit. When we share what we have with the other, and they do too; I really believe that that can only be a good thing.

Where do you see yourself as an artist in the future? In the next 5 or 10 years?

I don’t think like that. I’m too focused on the present. I remember one night I met a realtor and he was very entrepreneurial and focused on the future. He kept asking me, “What’s your plan? Where do you see yourself in five years?” I didn’t have a neat answer for him. I think he saw that as irresponsible. But I didn’t. Some people are too caught up in being brands and presenting themselves as these brands. I’m more concerned with living honestly and fully. That life goes into my work. My work is what I love the most in this world.

Do you identify with queerness? How do you define queer?

Yes, I do. I understand the history of the word, and how it has been re-appropriated to become a term of empowerment in sexuality and gender. In that world, I simply define it as ‘something else’. Something outside of the mythical norm (as Audre Lorde put it) of heteronormative existence. This can be applied to all the parts of one’s life.

You’ll be on the AFROPUNK stage that’s known for rebellion. How do you imagine yourself as a rebel presently and the future?

Anyone who sticks their neck out against the mythical norm is a rebel. Being alive today seems to be rebellious. Making art that you love is rebellious. Being your honest self is rebellious.

What’s the difference between your live and recording performances?

Songs are almost organic. They’re always changing and I’m always trying to be as present with them as possible. So as much as the recorded songs can be seen as final versions, with me being alive and able to perform them means that I can keep on breathing new life into them. I find that really exciting.

What were the inspirations, personally and musically, for your latest album, You Will Not Die?

The songs can be somewhat autobiographical, or at least inspired by my life. But it’s not diaristic. There’s more poetry to the stories. There’s some imagination. Some songs are inspired by books, others by films. With You Will Not Die, I wanted to write an album that was inspired by my apostasy, an album that celebrated being alive after that, after many traumas. And since I was moving from a life that was more ascetic to one that I imagined to be sybaritic; I wanted the music to have that sense. I wanted them to be ornate, baroque and almost operatic. I really enjoyed creating an array of sounds with Ben Christophers.

Freedom is a word that is on many artist’s lips. How do you define freedom?

Being able to choose. In whatever capacity of your life.