South Africa’s Nakhane performed his single Sydney show at the Magic Mirrors Spiegeltent as part of Sydney Festival on Friday night.
If you’ve not yet heard of 30 something Nakhane, it seems likely you will hear of him soon. Sydney Festival describes him as “on a fast-track to glam-pop superstardom”. He received notoriety (and death threats that saw him move to London) for his role in a John Trengrove film called “The Wound” (Inxeba in Xhosa language), in which he plays an openly gay man acting as mentor during male circumcision manhood rituals in the mountains of rural South Africa. The film was controversial for both its open homosexuality but also for revealing these rituals, which until then have been somewhat secretive to the outside world.
The Sydney Festival program promised “electro-pop with sweeping strings and African mbira percussion” from “[t]his South African [who] is on a fast-track to glam-pop superstardom”.
Nakhane stunned in a fitted red jacket worn open. He has been described as having “emotive, fragile vocals reminiscent of Anohni and Perfume Genius, and a charismatic presence that channels Grace Jones via Prince”. This certainly rings true. Nakhane’s presence enchanted the audience with its eyes firmly fixed on him throughout. Nakhane’s powerful yet fragile voice is undeniable.
At the Sydney Festival show, Nakhane performed songs mainly from his latest album “I will not die”, an apt title given those death threats he received for his role in “The Wound” with the exception of a few covers including of Seal.
However, when I hear the term “electro-pop”, pumping beats and an invigorated dancefloor are what come to mind. For me, neither of these were present in the Sydney Festival performance. There was little more than a sway on the dancefloor. Similarly, the songs seemed to meld into one another. About an hour into the performance we felt as though everything seemed to sound a bit the same.
An amusing moment where Nakhane wasn’t sure about how to use his water bottle. An audience member yelled out “you suck on it” which he repeated back to clarify before proceeding to do just that. Nakhane then cheekily said “skills” before laughing and then jokingly reassuring the audience “I’m a serious artist”. Little moments like these reveal Nakhane’s cheeky personality.
Following a song which seemed a bit too religious Sydney’s mainly secular crowd, Nakhane explained that he had always liked hymns but had found there weren’t really any queeer hymns. What did he do to rectify this? He decided to write a “queer hymn which features anal sex”. He then dedicated the next song to his grandmother telling us “she would like it”, which left us bemused but also confused about just what we were about to hear next. It was of course that very song he had just mentioned.
Nakhane has a stunning voice and an impressively wide vocal range but unfortunately his Sydney Festival show lacked the invigoration we had all come along expecting from a concert of “electro-pop”. Nakhane remains one to watch and if you remove the “electro-pop” definition, is one mesmerising performer.
Matilda Marseillaise was a guest of Sydney Festival