Inxeba's Nakhane bares soul

Port Elizabeth-raised musician and actor Nakhane Mahlakahlaka
Port Elizabeth-raised musician and actor Nakhane Mahlakahlaka

The release of controversial film Inxeba, his second album You Will Not Die and winning a Safta for best actor in a feature film have all seen Port Elizabeth-raised Nakhane Mahlakahlaka glued to the spotlight.

The musician and actor, now simply known as Nakhane, chats to Weekend Post reporter Zamandulo Malonde about You Will Not Die, Inxeba and homosexuality.

Q: After the release of your latest album, you revealed: “You Will Not Die is a diverse and emotionally-charged body of work documenting the joys, pain, confusion and hope experienced by Nakhane in recent years”. Can you expand on this, referencing the relevant song(s) on the album?

A: It’s interesting listening to an album after it was finished a year or so ago. Things change.

Your perception of songs changes. Some things become self-fulfilling prophecies.

But the thing that sticks out the most for me is that all those emotions are interlocked in some way – and sometimes in one song. In Star Red for example, which is, for all intents and purposes, a eulogy, you get the pain of the fact that this person is no longer in this realm we live in, but also the celebration and joy of having known this person intimately.

It then becomes a crystallisation of all those feelings in four minutes.

Q: How long did the album take to complete?

A: From the moment I first started writing to when we finished recording: four years.

Q: How does You Will Not Die differ from Brave Confusion?

A: The albums are different and the author is different too. With You Will Not Die there is a newfound confidence I didn’t have with Brave Confusion.

I suppose a lot of it came from leaving behind things I felt were inhibiting. Creatively, it started with me deciding to switch instruments and not write on acoustic guitar. This album was written using my laptop and a piano.

Q: Can you explain the title of the album?

A: I’ve had this title for eight or nine years, but never had the fitting project to use it with.

It’s from a scripture, Proverbs 23:13: “Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die.” I took that last phrase, blew the dust from it and changed it to fit better into my life.

Things are going to get difficult, but you’re going to wake up tomorrow and you will not be dead. The lyric goes “And in the morning when I woke/ I knew I would not die”.

Q: Your combination of sound and lyrics enables listeners to connect with their emotions and get up and dance altogether. Is this your intention?

A: Sometimes. When I started writing music someone made me aware that the lyrical content of the songs was melancholic. This was true.

So I thought to myself that I didn’t want to bum people out too much. No, I would not change the lyrics.

But how could I soften the blow or even make it more interesting for the listener? The challenge then was to write up-tempo songs.

I call them “crying in your beer at the club” songs.

Q: You grew up in a religious home that may have made it difficult for you to accept your sexuality. At some point you also preached against homosexuality. Now that you are embracing your sexuality, what is your take on Christianity and its stand on homosexuality?

There are certain scriptures in the Bible that open themselves up to different interpretations. And then there are others that are plain and rigid.

A: There are certain scriptures in the Bible that open themselves up to different interpretations. And then there are others that are plain and rigid.

I personally felt like I could not marry my identity with those scriptures and that I could not ignore them. They are so loud. And they are sabre-toothed.

Q: How have you managed to find the freedom to be who you are in a country (or world) that remains somewhat homophobic?

A: On some level it all started when I had nothing and had nothing to lose. I only had the friends who accepted every part of me. The good and the bad.

Suddenly I was facing the crossroads of whether I wanted to go back to fear or if I was ready to jump off the proverbial cliff and actually live.

And that is frightening. There’ll always be someone who doesn’t like you. Are you going to alter yourself every time you discover that someone? Of course not.

Q: You are commonly referred to as South Africa’s most “openly gay” singer. Do you believe that of yourself or do you feel you still have a long way to go?

A: I don’t take on any definitions that are projected onto me; positive or negative. But having said that I understand why “openly gay” is still used.

There are still too few artists in the mainstream that are visible.

Q: How has the process of coming out impacted your relationship with your family?

A: My family is lovely.

Q: Do you speak about any of the above-mentioned in You Will Not Die?

A: On By the Gullet there is a line in the chorus: “Who knows me here? All I know is that I’m living again.”

Q: You play the lead character in Inxeba which has caused a major uproar since its release. Did the chaos affect the making of You Will Not Die and did it inspire any of the songs on the album?

A: I love working in different mediums because one can be a place of refuge when another is giving you hell. I like to compartmentalise them, so they don’t mix.

When I’m doing one, I pretend the other does not exist.

Inxeba premiered in January 2017. I took a plane from the US and went to record, so there was never any relationship between the album and the film.

Q: When did you move to London and why?

A: I was living in London last year from September. But I moved indefinitely in January this year.

It’s all for work as I have to tour and do promotion in the UK and Europe. It just makes economical sense to be based here.

Q: Is Nakhane the author bringing anything anytime soon?

A: I’m not sure about soon. But the author has been mulling over what his next book will be for some time now.

Q: How do you feel about having won a golden horn award for Best Actor in a Feature Film at the recent South African Film and Television Awards?

A: It’s one thing to win international awards. Make no mistake, it feels good. But to be awarded at home is another thing altogether. Especially after [what] we and the film went through. It was such an incredible way to feel validated and loved by the industry and the people who are for the film. It’s weird. My first film. And I get a SAFTA. That’s very special. It makes me emotional just thinking about it.

  •  You Will Not Die is available for purchase at Musica and all digital streaming platforms.