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Nakhane's Music Meets At Life's Intersections: 'There's Nothing To Be Ashamed Of'

Nakhane's album <em>You Will Not Die is </em>out now.
Tarryn Hatchett
Courtesy of the artist
Nakhane's album You Will Not Die is out now.

South African author, actor and musician Nakhane creates art that reveals. He came out with his first album, Brave Confusion,in 2013, and now he's back with a powerful testimony of trial and redemption set to the sounds of electronic dance music from his home country. The 30-year-old singer addresses the intersectionality of queerness, blackness and survival in his latest album, You Will Not Die.

Raised among fundamentalist Christians in Alice — a small South African town in the Eastern Cape — Nakhane came out as gay at age 19, but fearful of God's rejection, he entered conversion therapy. But after years of suppressing his identity in fear of punishment, Nakhane decided to set himself free by embracing not only his sexuality but also his artistic ability. This self-liberation resulted in his first album, Brave Confusion,his first novel, Piggy Boy's Blues, and now the latest 18-track offering.

Nakhane talks with NPR's Scott Simon about the influences of his history, culture and identity in the process of making You Will Not Die. Hear the radio version of their conversation at the audio link, and read on for interview highlights.

Interview Highlights

On finding and honing his identity

Being a queer person in general in any space in the world, whether you are supported or not, you are the "other." Then put on top of that, being born into a Christian family, put on top of that, being in a super masculine space where you're expected to perform in a certain way in order for you to be accepted as a man. And then now, you're queer. And then as a Christian, that means that you have to renounce a big part of your desire. That was part of it, about five years of me trying to be a conservative Baptist. Parts of You Will Not Die do deal with it, whether directly or not.

On finding guidance from author and activist James Baldwin

He represented me. Before then you know it was hard enough blending queer literature, at least as far as I knew growing up in the suburbs of South Africa. The people that I did find were white writers. Great representation on the queer front sometimes, but not so great in the sense of me finding myself. You know, I could find the sex I could find the desire. But I couldn't find my cousins and my sisters and my mom, you know, I mean those things are really really important. I'm not mad. And that's what he says to me. He says, "You're not mad. You have a place in this world. Go out there and create."

On the song "Star Red"

It's about my grandmother. She raised me from birth up until I was five years old. She loved me completely. Her love was pure because it demanded nothing from me and she taught me a lot. She was a drinker and a smoker, which was very bad ass. I mean, for a black woman in the '60s to be smoking and drinking during a party — can you imagine? She said, "Look honey, if you're going to drink, don't drink your alcohol under the bed. Because if you do, it's going to come out and you can be humiliated and it will cause you a world of pain. Do it out in the open for everyone to see."

I mean, she was talking about alcohol. But I don't know if she realized how broad that was, because I implement that advice on almost every facet of my life. Do it out in the open so that you have nothing to be ashamed of because there is nothing to be ashamed of. If you are doing the right thing and you're honest and be truthful about it, there's nothing to be ashamed of.

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Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
Monika Evstatieva is a Senior Producer on Investigations.