Nakhane Makes the Dancefloor a Place of Tenderness

He's a South African musician and actor to keep an eye on, with a debut album coming this year.

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Jan 19 2018, 10:23am

At first, it’s the sound of the club. When South African musician Nakhane’s single “Clairvoyant” pounds into its first verse, you’re being hit from all sides by the markers of any self-respecting, queer-prioritising 3AM dancefloor: four-to-the-floor bass, handclap samples, a syncopated snare that makes you want to two-step against your better judgment. If this song – from an EP released last year of the same name – were an instrumental, it would probably be a 14-minute extended mix that some guy in a black hoodie in the smoking area won’t stop telling you about. Yeah mate, you got it in a Berlin record shop? No no, sounds great.

But actually, this is an intimate story about love. Clue into the lyrics, and they intone the destabilising feeling that love creates, in your knees, your brain, somewhere that catches in your throat. “I was reading Jean Cocteau’s Les Enfants Terribles,” Nakhane said in a statement, “and there’s a line there that goes: ‘love had made them clairvoyant,’ and I remember thinking, ‘Jesus, love doesn’t make me clairvoyant – if anything I become more of an idiot when I’m in love.’” Anyone who’s ever found themselves completely consumed by a relationship can relate. Because while love can feel like a superpower, a bond that connects you to the inner workings of someone else’s mind, it can also make you feel as though you’re actually losing it.”

In music, especially in pop, we’ve tended to be presented with simplified iterations of those often contradictory feelings. As Nakhane put it, “I was looking around and most love songs were either fawning and sensational about how much they loved the person, or they were very biting about how much they couldn’t stand the other person. There seemed to be a lack of middle ground, how you can love somebody but you can also resent them. There’s a line: ‘Love has not made me clairvoyant, all I know is how to be a servant’ but then the chorus is ‘I look to you’, nonetheless.” And so this video and song try to grapple with that idea. The visuals in particular take on the tug-of-war that develops when you’re deeply intimate with someone, and suddenly cross the line between closeness and ‘I’m actually tired of staring into your eyes now’ frustration.

If the video looks familiar, that’s because a version of it first appeared online last year, when Nakhane was promoting that Clairvoyant EP. But here it is all over again, because he's working on something new, and I'm not mad at it. As an artist, much is made of Nakhane's sexual orientation but his music goes beyond that for me, telling universal stories in ways that will make sense regardless of who you're shagging. Though not a huge name outside South Africa yet, I'd suggest keeping an eye on what he does next. In 2017 alone he played Afropunk Joburg in December, and (in his first acting role) starred as the lead in Oscar Best Foreign Film longlisted The Wound (Inxeba).

Of this weirdly transitory time, before this album comes out, he says to me: "One spends their time focused so hectically on their work that they sometimes don't have a chance to sit down and think of all the great things that are happening around them. Strangely enough, I've been living vicariously, through my friends and family, feeding off their joy from what is happening in my life. They often have to remind me to stop and see what is happening. I'm 30 years old in a few weeks, and I've never been more ready for what's to come. I've made an album that I'm proud of, and I can't wait for the world to fucking hear it." Whether in the quiet of your bathroom, soaking in the tub, or closing your eyes in the club, he's got you.

You Will Not Die is out on 16 March via BMG. Peep the full tracklist:

  1. Violent Measures
  2. Clairvoyant
  3. Interloper
  4. You Will Not Die
  5. Presbyteria
  6. The Dead
  7. Star Red
  8. Fog
  9. By The Gullet
  10. All Along
  11. Teen Prayer
  12. Clairvoyant (Radio Mix)

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