Photography: Yis Kid
Styling: Dariusz Kowalski
Make-Up: Kite Chuang using MAC cosmetics
For Nakhane, disruption is second nature. As he recalls, even at a young age he was challenging establishments. “When I was at school, my mentors were like, ‘you have a real problem with authority!’” he laughs. “I was like, ‘no, what you’re really saying is, don’t question it.’”
This kick back at convention informs everything Nakhane offers the world. Musically, it manifests itself in the fluidity of new album You Will Not Die, a tangle of gospel, R&B and soaring pop melodies. Visually, it creeps into his robust and sensual music videos – one of which, Clairvoyant, was slapped with an age restriction by YouTube. And it comes into full bloom in his award-winning role in The Wound, the 2017 film about a Xhosa initiation camp in South Africa’s rural Eastern Cape. This approach isn’t without controversy; The Wound recently stirred fierce reaction and protests from religious groups due to its portrayal of homosexuality amid the process of initiation.
As we chat on the long, communal tables of a trendy east London coffee shop, Nakhane is captivating. When our conversation quickly exceeds its pre-designated time slot he happily bucks regulations and extends the interview without hesitation. “I find interviews fascinating,” he explains. “You choose to give up an hour of your time to really just talk to a stranger, you know? We don’t tend to do that anymore.”
Refreshingly, Nakhane has a lot to say. He was raised in Port Elizabeth, South Africa by an auntie he referred to as ‘mom’. He was also raised in the confines of a religion that taught him to fear his sexuality. He may have since shrugged off these ideological shackles, but their residual scars linger throughout the album. “I read that apparently your brain stops developing in your 20s, and at some point – click! – that’s it. You’ll always be fucked up by that one thing that one person did when you were seven years old. Can you believe that?”
But Nakhane is striving to overcome his fears. “It’s interesting, I’ve recently started reading The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin, and he says the thing about fear is that you can’t avoid it. The only way you will ever get past it is if you look it straight in the eye.” After being taught for so long to be afraid of his sexuality, Nakhane now channels queerness into everything he does. His signature iridescent suits – often designed by the talented Rich Mnisi – are exemplary; a twist on a uniform drenched in connotations of power and conformity.
For Crack Magazine’s shoot Nakhane shapeshifts between loose, layered linens and oversized bomber jackets, partially-fastened with their sleeves left hanging, his shoulders exposed. He has a rare sense of poise and grace which adds a lick of feminine energy to even the most conventionally masculine looks. “I’ve recently started wearing a harness on-stage underneath a suit,” he says of the subtle subversions woven throughout his visuals. “I’ll scan the audience, and I can see that some people understand the BDSM reference, whereas others don’t necessarily. That’s interesting to me.”
What’s also interesting is that queerness is now, at least superficially, more celebrated than ever. The fashion industry is welcoming queer collectives like Art School and Gypsy Sport with open arms, headlines suggest trans people are now more “visible” than ever, and even Gucci shoe campaigns are emblazoned with the moniker of a queer subcultural movement: ‘Queercore’. Non-normativity has never been cooler.
“Queer people get reactions like, ‘oh, slay! Oh, werk!’” he laughs, acknowledging that corporations are also quick to muscle in on queer culture’s newfound popularity. “What those people don’t understand is just how much self-love it took you to get to that ‘slay’. You don’t just wake up one day and think, ‘I got this!’ No. You have to convince yourself that you’re worthy of claiming that identity. The people profiting from us have no idea, so they think they can just print it onto a t-shirt.”
Blazer: Chin Menswear Intl.
Shirt: Xander Zhou
Tie: Stylist's Own
Trousers: Ergo Proxy
Sunglasses: Xander Zhou
Bomber Jacket: Blood Brother
Trousers: DOOM 3K
Suit: Ergo Proxy
Shirt: Xander Zhou
Sunglasses: Xander Zhou
Crucially, the recent success of Black Panther has seen Africa similarly lauded by mainstream fans and critics. Naomi Campbell recently argued that the continent should be acknowledged for its brilliance through a new Vogue Africa publication. Nakhane smiles. “Let’s deconstruct that. Vogue Africa. It’s already problematic – we have over 50 countries. Do you know how different they all are? What we shouldn’t be doing is replicating, but instead creating new institutions.” He further reiterates his frustrations with Africa’s global treatment: “It’s there in terms like Afrofuturism. But there’s no Asiafuturism, no Eurofuturism. Why does Africa, as a continent, always have to be othered?”
The conversations Nakhane touches on are continually happening, just rarely in mainstream media. Instead, knowledge is being shared predominantly through social media to facilitate genuinely groundbreaking discussions. Nakhane is hopeful. “Twitter is amazing,” he enthuses, praising the platform he has used repeatedly to spark difficult conversations and voice his thoughts on, amongst other topics, censorship of his work and the backlash to The Wound, which received an X18 rating, a classification generally reserved for pornographic films.
If anything, these reactions don’t deter Nakhane – they spur him on. He discusses everything from colonialism to existential crises without ever flinching or recoiling from a question. In that sense, he’s a perfect poster child for today’s increasingly informed youth. “I’m so excited by this new generation, you know? It’s like a leak has allowed everything to spill out and for people to truly open things up. I really feel like things are going to change.”
You Will Not Die is out now via BMG. Nakhane appears at Afropunk Paris,
14 - 15 July