No one wakes up one day and decides to be an artist. This is what Nakhane tells me when we meet one evening in Johannesburg at a book shop, at the cusp of the cold season. The last time AfriPOP spoke to him in 2015, his collaboration with Black Coffee on the song “We Dance Again” was getting massive airplay on South African radio, and that same year you could curl up with his debut novel “Piggy Boy’s Blues”.
To be able to embody your musical and literary talents all at the same time is a rare thing, but Nakhane has managed to do so at pace. In early March this year, he announced that he’d be dropping the name “Touré”, and will simply go by his first name. This decision, he tells me, stems from his younger years. “I was passed around during my childhood from one person to another. I felt like I didn’t have an identity within a nuclear family, which is all I knew at that point when I was a child,” he says. He explains how he was born Nakhane Mavuso before being adopted by his aunt and her husband, prompting him to change his surname to Mahlakahlaka. “Then when I became a musician I became Nakhane Touré, and that gave me an artistic identity. When I finally made the decision [to drop ‘Touré’] I realised that I don’t need to be hanging under any umbrella. I’m my own person now, and I’m confident in that,” he says.
His newfound identity rides on the heels of his latest album, which was recorded in London and produced by the renowned Ben Christophers, who’s worked alongside international artists such as Bat For Lashes, Hot Chip, Tori Amos and Imogen Heap. Both worked closely for six weeks, honing and lacing together the album. According to Nakhane, his second album will take a detour from his angst-filled debut “Brave Confusion,” which in itself courageously swam the waters of religion, sexuality and the sweet sting of love.
“It’s really exciting and frightening because it’s my second album but for some reason I feel like this is really a re-introduction to who I am but properly. I feel like I’m starting over again. Now I know what I want. I never thought I’d take this long,” says Nakhane. “‘Brave Confusion’ was such an album of that particular time in my life, whereas with this one I’m going back to my childhood, albums I had listened to as a child, [and] family.” Fans can expect less of the acoustic sound that many have known Nakhane’s music for, but the album will nonetheless embody his familiar soaring vocals.
Alongside the album, Nakhane’s been gearing up for the South African film premier of “The Wound”, in which he features. “The Wound”, directed by John Trengrove, delves into the exploration of masculinity, same-sex love and desire on the backdrop of the isiXhosa initiation tradition. The film will premiere in South Africa only in July at the Durban International Film Festival, but the trailer alone has stoked a few fires. This is despite the widespread acclaim it garnered since being screened at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year.
The Wound trailer:
Nakhane points out that much of the vitriol has been from social media, where he’s been attacked for supposedly betraying his isiXhosa culture by being a part of the film, as well as “exposing” the sacred tradition. Some have gone as far as to attack him for being both umXhosa and gay.
If anything, he says, it reveals people’s often hidden sentiments towards homosexuality, and most importantly the lines they draw when it comes to whom they believe belongs to the isiXhosa culture and who doesn’t.
“I just wish people saw the film before they got angry. When people see the film, I think they’re going to realise that no actual secrets are revealed in the film. What they’re angry about is not actually really discussed in the film. When people are being aggressive towards me, being homophobic and angry, they say ‘our culture’, excluding me from it. It’s my culture, too. You have a say in this culture but so do I,” he explains.
“There are certain things in isiXhosa culture that used to be secret that are not secret anymore. Why is it the one that is kept secret is the one that deals with patriarchy, with hypermasculinity?”
This question can only be answered once the rest of South Africa watches the entire film, and settle into both the story’s spoken and unspoken experiences of adolescence, masculinity and love. In the meantime, Nakhane will continue to hone, chip away and mould his craft, and nurture whatever direction it takes. Being a multidisciplinary, he tells me, is essential to his entire career, which is why he holds prolific creatives such as American artist Laurie Anderson in high regard. “[Anderson] had said something so wise – she said ‘when people ask me to give any advice to the young I always tell them to be multidisciplinary, because once you say ‘I am a musician’, you box yourself in,’” he explains.
While his next album is now in the process of being mixed and mastered, and “The Wound” preparing for local release, Nakhane will also be among the artists performing at Johannesburg’s first Afropunk Festival at the end of the year. In between all of this, his second novel will also be taking shape. Unlike “Piggy Boy’s Blues”, which was set in the Eastern Cape, his next book is likely to take place in Johannesburg. It’s still in the stages of unfurling, so he doesn’t reveal too much. From film, to music, to literature, Nakhane nonetheless continues to answer his calling.
“No one woke up and was like ‘you know what? I want to be an artist.’ You were chosen,” he says. “And when you were called to be an artist, you were talking to the ancestors. You didn’t choose it.”