South African-born writer, actor and singer

An Audience with Nakhane

Richard Burnett
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Nahkane

South African-born writer, actor and singer Nakhane spent much of his youth wrestling with his gay sexuality and Christianity. He will be in Montreal for the Mile Ex End music festival.

He first came out as queer at age 19 and today – 11 years later – lives in London UK after receiving death threats for playing the lead role in the critically-hailed South African film The Wound, a film about the taboo of being a young gay man in the Xhosa community, South Africa’s second largest ethnic population, to which Nakhane also belongs. But since moving to London, Nakhane has become the toast of Europe, a glam gender-bending performer with an exquisite falsetto and whose new soulful electronic pop album You Will Not Die is a monumental masterpiece of queer self-acceptance. Nakhane headlines at the Mile Ex End Montreal music festival on September 1. We recently sat down for a candid Q&A.
 
You are playing the Afropunk Festival in New York, and dates in Toronto and Montreal. This must be your first concert in Montreal?
 
Yes. I’ve been to New York before, but it wasn’t to perform. Haven’t been to Canada at all.
 
 
My favourite song on your new album is Interloper. What were you trying to accomplish with your album? 
 
Thank you. I wanted to make an album that was rich in stimulation. An album that looked at fear square in the eye and realized that it won’t kill you. I wanted to make an album about the senses. And an album that wasn’t afraid to be both sensual and spiritual.
 
 
You are a creative triple threat – you are a singer, you are a writer (Nakhane’s critically-acclaimed debut novel Piggy Boy’s Blues was published in 2016) and you are an actor. What did you most want to be growing up? 
 
I wanted to be a singer. Mostly because it was easier to access music. I could sing whenever and wherever I wanted. It also helped that I was surrounded by a family that loved music. My mom and aunts are all classically-trained singers.
 
You came out to your family at age 19 but ended up back in the closet. Did the church convince you they could cure you? Is it true you actually once preached at a church against homosexuality?
 
Yes. All of this is true. It really was a false start to my freedom. I suppose I was more impressionable then. And also I hadn’t shaken Christianity at that point.   
 
In your blog journal entry “Sex With George Michael,” you write that your mother asked you if you would have sex with George Michael. How did your mom react to your coming out? 
 
It was initially difficult. But things have come around and we are doing very well.
 
How important was George Michael to you growing up?
 
Very. But not only for his sexuality. But because he was an incredible musician. But him being queer helped me deal with the fact that I was queer.
 
How and when did you decide that the only way you could live your life was as an out gay man?
 
There comes a point in one’s life when they have absolutely nothing to loseand the only thing they have is the truth. My life could not have been shittier at the time I finally decided to live as a queer man. I thought “Fuck! If it gets shittier than this, then I obviously have my training.”.
 
I realize the path to your settling in London UK is a long and winding road. 
 
I knew that I would be moving (other) countries before The Wound debacle started. It just happened at the right time. I had been signed to a European label and knew that a lot of the promotional and live work I would be doing would be in Europe, so it would be easier for me to live this side. 
 
 
I’d love to talk personal style with you – you have such a strong fashion identity. Where does it come from, and what fashion elements are you attracted to? 
 
It mostly comes from my mother. I actually termed my personal style “My mother in the 80s if she was a queer boy.” For me fashion is all about the feeling. How do I feel when I put this article of clothing on? Does it make me feel powerful or diminished? If I feel diminished, then I take it off.
 
Why were you compelled to make the film The Wound ? How did the story    mirror your own emotional turmoil as a young queer Xhosa boy?
 
Beyond the politics and the drama that came with The Wound, what drew me to the film was that it was a beautiful story that needed to be told. I still feel like that. I haven’t watched it in a while, but I remember being in screenings and being proud of the film. It is a piece of art. 
 
Did battling racism, colonialism and homophobia help you find your voice? 
 
All those things are there to silence or maim me. I had my voice beyond in spite of them. 
 
Are you excited to visit Montreal? 
 
Very! Some of my favourite musicians have lived in Montreal. Leonard Cohen was from Montreal, right?  
 
Nakhane plays the Mile Ex End Montreal music festival on Sept. 1. The 
festival runs from Sept. 1 to 3. For more inforation, visit mileexend.com. 
Read Richard Burnett’s national queer-issues column Three Dollar Bill