Wednesday, March 06, 2019

Nakhane – You Will Not Die

Nakhane – You Will Not Die (BMG)

The title sounds melodramatic. It’s not.

Nakhane is a queer 31-year-old South African actor, novelist and musician who fled his native country after starring in a film called “The Wound,” which was vilified by homophobes and led to death threats. He moved to London and started working on this album. On it, he captures the emotional depth of his personal story: growing up closeted, subjecting himself to conversion therapy, trying to find solace in the church, having a breakdown and ultimately coming through to the other side with confidence and an articulate artistic vision.

Somewhere along the way, he released a debut album as a guitar-playing folk singer, in a scene that didn’t welcome a lot of queer Xhosa men. Though You Will Not Die is rooted in piano compositions and electronic textures—sounding not unlike a gospel-tinged sibling to Perfume Genius—there are still traces of the folk singer here, as on a stellar version of New Order’s “Age of Consent” performed with just voice and electric guitar.  

This record came out in Britain last year, and has been expanded by an additional seven tracks for North America, including the New Order cover, a Bowie cover (“Sweet Thing”), a clubby collab with Anohni, and a less syncopated, radio-friendly remix of the track “Clairvoyant.”

Some of the material is much stronger than the rest, but Nakhane’s multi-octave, almost operatic voice is a sacred gift that sets him far apart from every other new male R&B singer of recent years.

That’s his physical voice I’m talking about; his voice as a lyricist, and as a public figure, is also crucial. He told GQ magazine about how he discovered James Baldwin novels when he was 15: “I was like, Oh my god, I'm not the only one. I'm not crazy, I'm not alone, my existence matters.’” 

It’s entirely possible that his music will inspire the same reaction on unsuspecting listeners around the world.

Stream: “Violent Measures,” “You Will Not Die,” “Hey, Lover”

NOTE: From the beginning of this blog until now, all the reviews here originally ran in a weekly column I wrote for the Waterloo Record. That column got canned today. I'm grateful for the man who hired me, the late Philip Bast, who gave me the extended opportunity to write about whatever I wanted in a mainstream daily. I do love the fact that my last column featured a queer South African living in Britain with an album called You Will Not Die

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