Going places: Nakhane’s second album, You Will Not Die, was released in March. He won a South African Music Award for his 2013 debut, Brave Confusion Picture: SIMPHIWE NKWALI
Going places: Nakhane’s second album, You Will Not Die, was released in March. He won a South African Music Award for his 2013 debut, Brave Confusion Picture: SIMPHIWE NKWALI

At the age of 30 and at the peak of his confidence, Eastern Cape-born singer Nakhane has moved to London to take on the UK and Europe.

His second album, You Will Not Die, was released in March 2018 through BMG records in London. Written on piano and laptop, it has shifted Nakhane’s songwriting and performance style into a bold, self-assured and sassy space.

The subject matter is tied to time. It is a celebration of his 30 years of existence and "being queer, and being able to talk about that in 2018", as he puts it.

He feels it is the right time for this kind of work. "Now, it is a different music industry. There is more variety in terms of taste and what kind of musician can exist and be celebrated," he says.

He also feels the time is right for personal development. "I am happy it is happening now, because I am better. I know what I want and I am old enough to factor what I want.

"I have a clearer understanding of who I am."

Nakhane says his new album is "beautifully surreal and baroque in how ornate it is. It is a maximalist album."

The rhythmical diversity of the drum machine, simple and subtle piano ostinatos, driving vocal harmonies and synthesiser sounds provide a dreamy foundation from which his immersive vocal style can rise in soothing, falsetto tones.

"I am not looking to be a virtuoso," he explains. "I care about how I am going to get what is in my mind/heart into whatever I am trying to do. Limitations sometimes trigger that.

"I read that the word amateur comes from passion — which I really like. I really enjoy new-ness; being surprised."

Nakhane grew up in Alice. His grandmother was an outstanding influence in an otherwise strict and religious upbringing. His passion for singing is among some of his earliest memories.

"I used singing as a balm," he recalls. "When I was walking somewhere, or lying in bed, I was singing. I was singing all the time to the point that my family would be, "shut the f*** up!"

He moved to Port Elizabeth when he was seven with his aunt and adoptive mother, who still works as a music teacher and choirmaster. He changed his name from his birth family surname, Mavuso, to that of his adopted family, Mahlakahlaka.

He performed in a school steel band, choir and played trombone in a classical orchestra. At 15 his life changed dramatically when he moved with his father to Johannesburg. "It was a culture shock," he recalls.

There was no music at school so he took up drama. This training has become key to his compelling stage performances, which in turn drives his self-expressive songwriting.

"Creativity is at the fulcrum of everything. It is storytelling. It requires a certain amount of ego and self-possession. Humility sustains it. You need a dose of both. You have to have the ego to stand on stage and risk humiliation, and the humility to allow it," he says.

Nakhane first tried to break into the music industry at the age of 22 and was briefly disheartened. But three years later he was signed by Karl Anderson of Just Music and his debut album, Brave Confusion, won a South African Music Award.

Since then Nakhane has published a novel, Piggy Boy’s Blues, and starred in Inxeba, a film about a love affair in the context of a traditional Xhosa coming-of-age ceremony.

"I am often asked why I do so many things. I come from a Xhosa space. Imbongi used to sing, act, be a poet, dancer and was chosen to do it all. It exists in me," he explains.

Sitting here and being able to afford my own tea and lunch and have a laptop, what more can people want? Everything is extra. I get to live my dream. I travel with the band I like and write songs I love, and I am happy with that

Nakhane used the stage name Touré at the start of his career, in homage to Ali Farka Touré, the great Senegalese guitar griot. It was his "cultural political pan-African identity", as he calls it. Some of his primary musical influences are African pioneers such as Busi Mhlongo, Fela Kuti and Oumou Sangaré.

Nakhane is now signed to BMG as a songwriter and has moved to London to focus on touring in the UK and Europe.

"I have no desire to become a multimillionaire or to be the most famous musician in the world, but I don’t want to be hungry or struggle," he says.

"Sitting here and being able to afford my own tea and lunch and have a laptop, what more can people want? Everything is extra. I get to live my dream. I travel with the band I like and write songs I love, and I am happy with that."

English musicians Charlotte Hatherley on keyboard and guitar and Keir Adamson on drums are touring with him.

"I like the idea that it is just the three of us and we are making all this noise. It demands more from us. It makes you work harder," Nakhane says.

In the past few months he has performed in Belgium, France and Holland. He is touring Germany next, with performances in Cologne, Berlin and at the Heidelberg Queer Festival.

After his stunning New Year’s Eve performance at AfroPunk Johannesburg, he is booked for AfroPunk’s Paris and Brooklyn festivals. He is excited about touring Slovakia for the first time in July.

He will perform some of his most popular songs, such as Clairvoyant, a disruptive desire-charged technopop tune, Interloper, a homage to The Cure about irrational jealousy and anonymous sex, and Presbyteria, a gentle love song with the provocative chant "black and white never looked so good!".

Nakhane says there is nothing he loves more than touring. "It disciplines me and ties me down — I don’t drink, I hydrate and eat healthily, because if I am to stand on stage I must be at a certain level of athletic quality.

"And this means everything to me so I can’t afford to do anything that might affect that," Nakhane says.

Nakhane is performing at Bushfire, Bassline Fest, Zakifo and Sakifo between May 25 and June 2.

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