Nakhane recently announced the dates for his three-show South African tour. The artist (pronouns: they/he) spoke to Zaza Hlalethwa about creating new work, temporary migration and coming back home
How have you been?
I’ve been good. I’m just working on new material, going to a lot of therapy and reading a lot. It’s kind of rare for me to read for leisure. I try to, but I’m always thinking how can I use this for my work. Right now I’m reading What Happened by Hanif Kureishi and I’m also reading The Queer Art of Failure by Jack Halberstam. It’s an academic text about unpacking the heterosexual framework of success and influence. I think a lot about this idea of influence. Men love to influence. They love to spread their power and be known. It’s all about spreading your seed. But I’m still reading the book.
Let’s talk about migration as a queer South African artist. Do you feel like the United Kingdom is a more conducive environment for your work?
Brave Confusion came out in 2013. People were talking about how South Africa is not ready for it and I wasn’t sure if I agreed. I didn’t know what that meant. I thought it was a bunch of beautiful songs that people can listen to: you don’t have to prepare for that. Me coming to England because South Africa isn’t ready would be me undermining us.
South Africa is still one of my biggest markets in the world. My move to the UK was not as calculated as people thought it was. It wasn’t because of Inxeba (The Wound). I was planning to stay here for two months but then I was on tour so I decided to stay for a year. Then I stayed for another year. I still don’t know how long I’ll stay. I like the idea of being itinerant, of moving, discovering. I think voluntary migration is important, just for your mind.
What catalysed the South African tour?
I had wanted to play some shows in South Africa last year but there was no time. The tour was two years long. In those two years I played close to, if not more than, a hundred shows. The tour ended and I was sad that I hadn’t come home for a tour. Then my South African agent said we could still do shows. It was supposed to happen next year February. That was impossible for me because I would be recording my next album. So I asked for it to happen at the end of this year. I did the Scottish Leader ad and they were a willing sponsor, so it made sense financially as well.
The upcoming tour’s venues aren’t big. Is there a reason you are not performing in bigger venues?
I always felt like my South African supporters never got a chance to see me perform properly in an intimate setting. I don’t like big shows because you don’t get to see the artist. I like to be close to an artist when they perform. Maybe when they’re dancing, their sweat will bounce off my face. I want that intimacy. I want that closeness. I want people to be able to have a conversation with me. What I really dislike about a lot of the shows that I have seen is the distance between the artist and the audience. The only dialogue is when the artist says “Say ay yo!” I don’t want that when I come home.
What is the significance of you coming home to perform a body of work titled You Will Not Die shortly after the #AmINext season?
Wow. I think about people’s attention a lot. When I’m watching the news and someone has been killed, people go up in arms on social media. In about two weeks, they move on to something else. That makes me so sad. I think people must be reminded, god. I was looking at a picture of Faka on Twitter the other day and I thought: “We have come a really long way for them to be afforded dignified visibility by the media.” There’s now space for artists like me to exist. That’s important for me, to remind people that we are here and our lives as the LGBTQI+ community and women matter.
What has it been like watching South Africa unravel in the news?
I keep in touch with the news every day. I don’t want to be in the dark about what’s happening because it’s home. All I know is that it’s becoming clearer that our leaders don’t care for us that much. It hurts me.
Would you say it’s affecting or speaking to your creative process?
I think about it all the time. Daily. Being far from it makes my thoughts about it clearer. Sometimes distance helps. I have the privilege to be distant. It’s a bad and a good thing. As an artist you need to sometimes have the opportunity to be distant about things so you can think about them. A lot of the work that I’m seeing is quite reactionary. As much as that’s good because it’s fresh and it’s hot, sometimes you need time to really think about things so you can process them.
Do you feel visible and is visibility something that you want?
I do feel more visible. When I say “I”, I mean people like me, as in the LGBTQI+ community. There’s more mainstream visibility and I think that’s a good thing. Having said that, there’s still a long fucking way to go.
I’ve been approached by people asking me if it’s necessary to push narratives with queer protagonists. No one ever questions cis-heterosexual protagonists because that’s the assumed normal. It’s assumed that we shouldn’t want to write about ourselves because then we will be pigeonholed.
I personally have no problem with being pigeonholed as a queer artist. I think that gives me freedom. I don’t want to assimilate. I’m not interested in assimilating or mimicking heterosexual behaviour because I think assimilation is very dangerous. I think it gives us false comfort.
What is queering?
I’m interested in creating something new. This speaks for my life, this speaks for my art. That’s what that book, The Queer Art of Failure, is about. Queerness is about curiosity about your relationships, about how you dress, about your view on things, about your politics, high culture, low culture. Queerness is about asking why those things exist. Who created them? That’s what I’m really interested in. That’s what queering is as an artist, it’s questioning.
Nakhane’s South African leg of the You Will Not Die tour takes place from November 28 to 30. Click here more information or to buy tickets