Nakhane turns a new page

Nakhane's persona is as complex as the experiences in his life. /Supplied
Nakhane's persona is as complex as the experiences in his life. /Supplied

Nakhane is back in town for a breather.

We meet on a late Joburg afternoon at a bookstore in Rosebank.

He cuts a striking figure across the counter as he slouches over a magazine in a black biker jacket.

Nakhane is as interesting as he is complex. I meet him at a point where he is shedding his Christian faith.

"I'm earnest about leaving Christianity, but you can't shake off your mother tongue. Christianity is the first language I ever learned, but I choose not to believe in it, but it will always be there and I will use it because it used me. I don't believe in it, didn't make sense to me. Look around and see what it has done..."

His newest album, You Will Not Die, reverberates with Christian undertones.

"It comes from Proverbs 23: 13," he explains.

"Withhold not punishment from the child, for if you beat him with a rod, he will not die.

"I got the title eight or nine years ago when I was still a Christian and I was in Bible study. I was intrigued by that last phrase. It relates to the whole idea of pain.

"So if life beats the shit out of you, you're not gonna die. You're gonna wake up in the morning and you won't be dead. Christianity is all over this album, but I'm not a Christian."

He says the album was recorded early in 2017 in London but was written in Johannesburg.

"It was hard work. I spent time excavating a lot of trauma from my childhood. I had to leave Christianity and my formative years behind and try to find a correlation between child Nakhane and adult Nakhane.

"And for me to draw a line and start afresh. That was not as easy as I thought it was going to be because you can't go back to being five without actually looking at things square in the face and go 'oh fuck, that hurt... or didn't hurt', a lot of this album is about that, and love in all its complexities."

Nakhane may be uppermost on people's minds thanks to the film Inxeba: The Wound, in which he stars. But he has moved on. In fact he won't entertain my questions.

"I'm done talking about
Inxeba. There's 10000 interviews about it. It's about moving on. Nakhane is done. I'm promoting my album now," he asserts.

I ask him about life abroad.

"I guess my base is in London, but I spend more time on the road, I'm on tour, I'm doing press and finding ways to play these songs and keep them alive, which is exciting."

He says things started moving after performing at the inaugural Afropunk concert in Johannesburg in December, before he took on Europe.

"Afropunk was a highlight. It was the beginning, a portal to what this year was about.

"We played a gig in a beautiful church in Rotterdam, it was ironic. People go to worship but on Saturdays they have festivals.

"It's Europe, a lot of churches for instance in London are abandoned and turned into clubs, bottle stores and pubs.

"I was also in Bourges, a very old town in France, very interesting, very medieval, and it was well-known for witchcraft and I find that interesting.

"I'm touring mostly Europe. It's fucking amazing, going to towns and cities you never heard of and there are people who know your songs. I find it emboldening, and you can create your identity of who you want to be everyday depending on what you want to be."

Nakhane explains his evolving identity: "I was born Nakhane Mavuso, then I changed to Nakhane Mahlakahlaka because I was adopted by my aunt and her husband. Then I became Nakhane Toure in homage to Ali Farka Toure whose music I love, and I said, 'you know what? I don't need to belong to any of these people. I'm enough. I'm Nakhane. I like my first name'.

"Surnames showed you who you belong to, by not having a surname you don't belong to anyone."

He says time allowed him freedom to be better. "It never ends. I always want to be better and improve myself."

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