His Name is Nakhane and He’s Going to Live Forever
An Artist Profile written by Rifumo Mdaka:
I’ve spent at least three months hunting him down. Confirming my first interview in 2013 felt like it took seconds. What’s changed?
He’s barely in the country anymore. He’s dropped Touré from his stage name. He’s released a novel. He’s starred in a highly acclaimed and controversial film. He’s signed to a foreign label and talent agency. He’s performing at shows all over the world. He is Nakhane. And because of all this, I can’t even get a Skype interview in. We settle for email. He shoots back with a snarly quip he knows I’ll appreciate before getting back to me two days later with his answers. I read them immediately and it all makes sense.
Nakhane has arrived.
His first full-length album since 2013’s Brave Confusion is out today (16 March 2018) and it’s called, You Will Not Die. “For a long time I felt like this is my first album. But that dishonours Brave Confusion,” he says. “That was an important part of my life. You can’t skip steps here. You have to go through them all. I would not be here without Brave Confusion.”
They’re not so much steps as they are a cyclical process of construction, deconstruction and reconstruction. “We are born, we live, we age and die. And then we transform,” he says. “I’ve realised and have learned to live with the fact that I’m a character of extremes and sometimes I use things until they are finished, and then I have to move on to the next thing.” An apt summation of Brave Confusion, if I ever heard one. From “In the Dark Room” to “Fog,” and “Robert” to “My Jonathan,” Nakhane frantically overindulges in trying to find himself in obviously risky situations and relationships. But that’s done now.
And now, he will not die.
“Because I’m going to live forever!!!” [exclamation marks are his own] As a child, I remember convincing myself that famous people were super-humans who could not possibly die. But I’ve met Nakhane. I know he’s mortal. How does he know he won’t die?
He’s had the title You Will Not Die for at least eight years (that predates Brave Confusion by three years). He just didn’t have the right project to link it to – until one day, while soaking in the tub; the idea came back to him.
“Good ideas do that. They present themselves. You look at them dismissively, but they never let go. They keep tapping your shoulder for years until you relent. Now was the time.” So he leaped out of the tub, went straight to his keyboard and wrote the cornerstone title track. If the title sounds at all familiar to you, you’re on to something. “When it first came to me, I was at a Bible study,” he recalls. “Proverbs 23:13: Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die.”
There have been great successes for Nakhane – well documented – but life has also ‘beaten the child with the rod’. He doesn’t want to talk now about the hard times but he will say this: “You have to live. You can’t live in fear all the time. And believe me, there’s plenty to fear, and there’s plenty that damages one, but that can’t win,” he emphasises. “Life has to be lived. And since I believe that this is the only one I have, I’m going to eat it with a spoon.”
Have you seen the ‘Interloper’ video ?
That choreography, lifted directly from his live performance work, is the personification of eating life with a spoon. “We wanted performance to be front and centre and my performance is definitely a reclamation of my agency in my life,” he says. “It’s mine. I can say that now without wincing. At this juncture of my life I know who I am, and who I want to be.”
What does that mean, ‘I know who I am?’ If you ask Nakhane, it’s to do with “making decisions that feel right and are bold” and being at a place where you have “nothing to hide.” He’s quick to caution that even though all of those things are true, “identity is a tricky fucker. It’s always in motion, even when we don’t feel it.”
Maybe that explains why he went non-narrative for that video. Or why each song on You Will Not Die had between 10-15 demons. It could be why his publisher is “very annoyed” with him at the moment for “lack[ing] the courage and time to sit down and write” his next novel. Or maybe why it took five years to finally interview musicians for a band. I didn’t realise how important the band thing was until I asked.
“I fucking hated that people (mostly older, white straight men) were telling me how I could present my music,” he says. “And also the talk of authenticity, which simply put was: white man with a checked shirt, a beard, an acoustic guitar, a Christian life and other stupid boxes that were so assimilationist.” He made the decision to remove those people from his life, which ultimately led to forming his band. This isn’t just a dinner party anecdote – “they had to be a certain person,” he says – this is identity construction live at play.
How Nakhane has managed to get it right over the last five years is by focusing on the now.
Try asking him about what he wants you to remember him for when he dies and see. “I don’t know. I haven’t decided yet. But ultimately posterity decides, so I have no control over it.” So, yes, of course his mortal body will die but, by staying present, he will live forever.
Photography by Tarryn Hatchett.
Article produced exclusively for Jameson INDIE Channel by the Platform Magazine Content Network.
See Nakhane in Inxeba (The Wound):
More INDIE pieces featuring Nakhane here.