LPR Presents: Nakhane at Baby’s All Right on June 20th, 2019
Tickets on sale Friday, March 22nd at 10am EST.
One of the glorious things about pop music is the way that singular talents can come from anywhere – and 2018 will be made infinitely more interesting by the arrival of Nakhane. Born 30 years ago in Alice, a small town on the eastern Cape of South Africa, Nakhane has a ravishingly beautiful voice and plenty to express with it. His album You Will Not Die excavates his religious upbringing, his need to renounce Christianity after feeling that it was incompatible with his queerness, and his periods of depression and anxiety – but there’s also love, joy and self-acceptance, not least on the title track, in which Nakhane realises that despite the traumatic events he’s been through, he’ll survive.
As an album, You Will Not Die is gorgeous to listen to, Nakhane’s magisterial voice aligned with solid-gold songwriting. Producer Ben Christopher, whose credits include Bat For Lashes, melds choirs, strings and electronic pop into something sumptuous and urgent. From the choral hip-hop of opening track Violent Measures, through the anthemic pulse of Star Red, to the gorgeously limpid torch song All Along, You Will Not Die reveals the measure of Nakhane’s considerable talents.
Born in Alice, Nakhane grew up in Port Elizabeth before moving to Johannesburg aged 15. A umXhosa, the second largest ethnic group in South Africa after the amaZulu, Nakhane was raised in a musical family – his aunt, who brought him up (and who he refers to as his mum), and her sisters sang in choirs. “My first musical memories are voices in a room singing Mozart and South African choral pieces,” he says. “And then when we moved to Port Elizabeth my mum introduced me to Marvin Gaye and the O’Jays. I didn’t really know current pop music until I was in high school.”
Nakhane performed in musicals at school, including the lead role in Joseph and his Amazing Technicoloured Dreamcoat, and loved singing harmony with this aunt on car journeys. Everyone in the family could sing, he says, “but for some reason I could see that singing was something I got validation from a lot more than anyone else around me.” Nakhame didn’t realise as a youngster that he had an extraordinary voice, at once triumphant and tender. “With songwriting there was a lightbulb moment where I thought ‘Yeah, I can do this!’ But with singing it was like learning how to speak, you don’t realise you’re learning and then you suddenly can.”
More difficult was Nakhane’s growing awareness of his sexuality. Though South Africa is liberal regarding LGBT rights, his family’s Christianity was becoming increasingly hardline: “the older I got, we became very staunch, more conservative”. At the age of 19 he came out, to the consternation of his church and family, who decided that his “sin” could be prayed away – “like if you have Jesus in your heart this is a temptation that you can learn to live without”. For six years until the age of 25, Nakhane was a poster boy for fundamentalism, preaching about the way God had taken away his attraction to men, “a testament that ‘look, it can happen, someone can think that they are homosexual but if they just accept Jesus into their heart and fight this temptation they can be good Christians’.”
Inevitably however, Nakhane realised that his sexuality could not – and should not – be denied. He renounced his Christian faith after a dream which inspired You Will Not Die. “One night, I dreamt a voice gave me a date, that of my death,” he remembers. “Suddenly, having forever lived in fear of divine punishment, I was certain I wasn’t to die the next day, or even 10 years later. It was incredibly freeing. I decided to catch up on lost time, to finally live my life.”
Along with his sexuality, Nakhane embraced his artistic identity. Inspired by mould-shattering musicians including Anohni, Busi Mhlongo, David Bowie, Mbongwana Star and Nina Simone, Nakhane started to write songs on his acoustic guitar and play them on the folk circuit in Johannesburg: “grungy little pubs where everyone would talk over you”. He was spotted performing in an acoustic competition in Johannesburg by the boss of a record label who signed him, then in 2013 released his first album Brave Confusion which, he says, “took a while to catch on.” In 2015 Nakhane published his first novel, Piggy Boy’s Blues, about a relationship between a young man and an uncle whom he discovers is in a same-sex relationship. The same year Nakhane collaborated with the South African DJ Black Coffee; their addictive, pulsing dance record We Dance Again was a hit and gave the singer a wide audience in the country.
His achievements are not confined to music and literature. Last year Nakhane starred in The Wound, a film about homosexuality in the Xhosa community which has been shortlisted for the best foreign language film at this year’s Oscars. This January he visited New York for a podcast-based project with the actor and filmmaker John Cameron Mitchell. He’s a polymath, then: but a musician first and foremost, with You Will Not Die showcasing him in full bloom.
Nakhane wanted it to be an electronic album, partly a reaction to his early experiences as a musician. “The folk scene is so fucked up,” he says. “It purports to be authentic which is a word I fucking hate, because it normally means white guy with a beard and an acoustic guitar. I don’t tick those boxes.” In fact, You Will Not Die ranges from the effervescent glam-tinged stomper Interloper, through the abstract blues of The Dead, to the meditative piano ballad Teen Prayer. There are some sounds which run through the record – for instance choirs, a reference to Nakhane’s upbringing – and of course that glorious voice, delving deep into his experiences. The ominous waltz Fog is about suffering what Nakhane’s doctor says is chronic depression and generalised anxiety disorder. “Four years ago it was difficult to talk about mental illness without people rolling their eyes at you,” says Nakhane. “It affects every facet of my life, unfortunately. But I’m on good medication now.”
The shimmering dance tune Clairvoyant is a love song, inspired by a line in Jean Cocteau’s Les Enfants Terribles. “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’.” The lyrics, Nakhane says, are neither euphoric nor despairing, but about that tricky middle ground: “how you can love somebody but you can also resent them.” Its video is a sumptuous portrait of a same-sex couple, stylistically inspired by Wong Kar-Wei’s Happy Together, in which Nakhane appeared naked. “Oh yeah I am, aren’t I?,” he chuckles. “I went to the director and said to him that I wanted to show a same-sex black couple living their normal day to day life. I wanted to showcase banality but make it beautiful and stylise it.” As for the nudity, “I had a very naked family, nudity was never anything that was frowned upon. As an artist, my body is just another tool for me to use to say what I want to say.”
Teen Prayer was inspired by a visit to a tarot card reader who recommended that Nakhane went back to the places in which he grew up – advice he took. A kind of anti-gospel record, Teen Prayer is “about letting go of the fear that I’m going to hell. I also wanted to queer that Biblical language and gospel sound. There’s a line ‘He moves in me’ which is a double entendre. One could read it as the Holy Spirit moving in you, or one could read it as anal sex.”
The title track You Will Not Die delves into a subject Nakhane had previously thought was too tender to write about – the fact that his biological parents had not brought him up. “For the first five years of my life I was moved around a lot,” he says. “My father was never on the scene really, I’ve met him twice. I lived with my mother for a year when I was six, it didn’t work out, and then my aunt and her husband adopted me and they, for all intents and purposes, became my parents for the remainder of my life. It was never forethought, but life made it that way and as traumatic as it became when I was growing up, now when I look back I’m so much happier – I prefer that I was raised by my aunt.”
The song is about this hard-won acceptance of painful aspects of the past, and a hymn to Nakhane’s resilience. “That line ‘And when I woke up in the morning I knew that I wouldn’t die’. So your parents left, did you die? No. There’s always tomorrow – hopefully.”
Nakhane’s tomorrow is a hugely promising one – and he travels to the UK with his family’s blessing, despite the complexities of religion and sexuality. “It took a long time and a lot of complicated conversations, but over time I think the ice thaws,” the singer says. His experiences have turned him into a vibrantly creative artist destined to push pop’s boundaries. “I remember being young, black and queer and having no-one representing me in the world ever, you know?,” he says. “I discovered James Baldwin when I was 19 and I was never the same person ever again. So if my album can do something like that for someone, then my work is done.”
The Illustrious Blacks
THE ILLUSTRIOUS BLACKS:
Once upon a time, in a galaxy not far away, there lived two kings. Each was the ruler of his own deliciously glorious planet. The first king, Manchildblack, was well known throughout the cosmos for his ethereal vocals, celestial sonics and earthy musical messages. The other king, Monstah Black, was a star in the solar system for his gravity defying performances, gender bending fashions and spacey disposition. One magical night, an inexplicable ultramagnetic pull forced the two planets to collide. A technicolored explosion occurred, turning night into day, with a feast of aural and visual delights. It was then that the universe was changed forever. Manchildblack and Monstah Black united and became The Illustrious Blacks.
With inspiration from extra terrestrials like Prince, David Bowie, Grace Jones, Boy George and George Clinton, The Illustrious Blacks have arrived with a mission to fuse futuristic funk, hypnotic house and cosmic pop into pulsating positivity for the planet. The real life married couple are not only co-pilots on their artistic voyage, but are united in their fantastical journey through life.
In 2017, The Illustrious Blacks released their highly anticipated debut EP, NeoAfroFuturisticPsychedelicSurrealisticHippy, on Concierge Records. The EP features the high energy single “Blast Off,” the seductive “Red Light,” the thought provoking “Delusions of Grandeur” and the anthemic “Black Like Jesus.” In the same year, the dynamic duo also found time to work with producer Nickodemus on a remake of the 90s dance floor classic “Funk That!,” which spawned a popular music video.
The acclaimed duo found even more praise for their epic live shows, which fuse music, dance, theater & fashion as the ingredients to expand minds, shake bootys and save the world one beat at a time. Toward the end of summer 2017, The Illustrious Blacks landed their electrifying live show, Hyperbolic, for a three month residency at the legendary Joe’s Pub at The Public Theater.
If their music and live shows are meant to elevate you into the stratosphere, then The Illustrious Blacks radio show, “On Air w/The Blacks,” is an opportunity to experience their inner space. The entertaining and often hilarious weekly series invites listeners onto the mothership of the charismatic couple, where they discuss the latest happenings in global pop culture on WBAI 99.5 FM in New York.
Individually, Monstah Black and Manchildblack illuminate the galaxy with equal magnitude. Together, as The Illustrious Blacks, they have combined their powers and metamorphosed into supernovas, blazing through the Milky Way like a comet, with their own unique brand of cosmic freak nobility.
“As he searches for his own promised land, Manchildblack might be on the road to delivering us all.” – Jason King (NYU-Tisch School of the Arts, Clive Davis Department of Recorded Music).
As a recording artist, impresario, tastemaker and DJ, Manchildblack is a true renaissance man. He has released three acclaimed EP’s: Awake In A Dream, My Mind’s I and Love Reigns Vol. 1. The music video for his soulful single “To The Sky,” received heavy rotation on BET J/Centric. Manchildblack is the Creative Director of Hype Life Music, which co-produces the long running dance party Libation, as well as his own DJ residencies: Astro Beat and Get Together, the latter alongside DJ Afro (Los Amigos Invisibles). These popular nightlife events are inspired by Manchild’s fascination with 70s and 80s New York nightlife, where people of different races, sexual orientations and backgrounds came together to dance and fellowship to the sounds of Disco, Funk, Punk, New Wave, Jazz and early Hip-Hop.
He recently launched the annual Hype Life Music Fest, dedicated to showcasing and celebrating black and brown artists in dance and electronic music. The 2016 festival garnered press coverage from news source NBCBLK. Manchildblack and HLM has curated and produced events for the Apollo Theater, SOB’s, AFROPUNK, Webster Hall, The Studio Museum In Harlem and has featured acclaimed DJs like Louie Vega, Black Coffee, Osunlade, Rich Medina and many more. As one half of The Illustrious Blacks, Manchildblack and his husband, Monstah Black, co-host the weekly radio show On Air w/The Blacks for WBAI 99.5 FM in NYC. Known for their electrifying live performances, the dynamic duo have released the singles “Black Like Jesus” on Hype Life Music, “Take Me Ovah” on Get Up Recordings and “Delusions of Grandeur” on Royal Advisor Records. In recent years, Manchild has become an in-demand DJ spinning a seamless mix of House, Disco, Funk, Afrobeat and Techno alongside legendary spinners Kerri Chandler, Francois K., Hot Chip, Derrick Carter and Dimitri From Paris. He’s also provided opening sets for concerts by musical artists Meshell Ndegeocello, Seun Kuti, Jesse Boykins III, Tortured Soul & the incomparable Roy Ayers. In 2014, he was selected to be one of the faces of l’oreal’s Magic Shave print campaign, shot by famed photographer Jamel Shabazz.
Manchildblack’s mission is both clear and powerful and is now resonating with audiences around the world. “This is about more than me, it’s about a movement and I plan to be one of the leaders in the forefront of the change that’s coming.”
Reginald Ellis Crump a.k.a Monstah Black is a multi-dimensional performing artist known for his stage performances that blur the lines of genre and gender. Born and raised in historical Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia, Monstah was exposed at birth to not only the pulpit rocking sounds of the southern Baptist Church and the classical sounds of Roman Catholic Church but also Soul, R&B, Rock, Funk and Disco. His aesthetic reflects this upbringing revealing influences of Prince, David Bowie, Grace Jones and Sylvester. He fuses his love for music, movement, fashion and visual art in his funk drenched musical creations.
As a pre-teen Monstah became the personal high heel stretcher for his mother’s new heels, spending evenings parading through the house in “mothers new pumps” while grooving to hits on Music Television. By 16 he was terrorizing the halls of high school in stiletto boots, safety pins and exercising his desire to be a NewRomanticAfroGypsyPunkFunkDiscoGlamRockStar.
He trained in Choreography, performance while in undergrad @ Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia. Using performance art as a way to enhance his music, after graduating, Monstah moved to Washington, DC and began creating performances under the moniker Bedrock Goes Ka-Boom while simultaneously dancing for local dance companies and performing in Nightclubs. Monstah was commissioned by The DC Commission on Arts and Humanities to create his one man show entitled The Acid Box Cabaret. This opportunity lead him to creating a site specific Punk Funk Opera entitled Delicious Hunger, Hunger Delicious, performed in the lobby of The National Theater in Washington, DC. The Opera featured some of DC’s well known musicians, poets, dancers, strippers, nightlife freaks and several students from George Washington University dance department.
After years of experimentation in DC Monstah re-located to New York City and chose to focus on producing electronic based music using a 505 Groovebox Sequencer. With a thumb on electronic music Monstah combined musical compositions with his kinesthetic and visual ideas. He began creating otherworldly performances mixing 70’s Sci-Fi, Funk, Punk Rock, Post Modern Dance and physical theater with elements of underground club culture and fashion. Out of this experimentation he produced four un-released albums (This Suite Divine, Black Strap Molasses, Skipping Backwards and Living Outside The…) Choosing to never release the soundtracks, only performing live with the exception of the occasional mix tape that was given to or sold to close friends and fans, Monstah created musical events that happened only once and then disappeared.
In 2011 Monstah Black collaborated with composer Major Scurlock on the creation of Black Moon. Black Moon is an Electro-Funk Chamber Opera that remixes the life of Pierrot Lunaire as an African American male vaudevillian performer. This works creation was supported by the Dance New Amsterdam Artist in Residence program.
Monstah has performed in numerous venues including Art Basel, Miami, The Whitney Annual Gala, New York, Smithsonian Museum, Washington, DC, Performa Biennial, New York, Joe’s Pub, New York, Dance New Amsterdam, New York, New York Live Arts, Movement Research, New York, Dixon Place, New York, Lincoln Center Out Of Doors, New York, New Media Festival, Moscow, Performance Festival, Ouro Preto, Brazil, Dance Festival Gdansk, Gdansk, Poland, Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Scotland, Eyebeam New York City, National Theater, Washington DC, Dance Place, Washington, DC, Philadelphia Fringe Festival, Pennsylvania and The Brooklyn International Performing Arts Festival. He has been the recipient of an international choreographers residency at Dance Omi in Hudson Valley, New York and has returned as a guest mentor. Honorable mentions in publications include The New York Times, L Magazine, Time Out Magazine, Dance Magazine and The Village Voice.
Monstah has received numerous awards including the Tom Murrin Performance Award, Franklin Furnace Fund, Queer Arts Mentorship Fellowship, BRIC Media Artist Fellowship (Brooklyn), Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, American Music Center Live Music for Dance Program, The District of Columbia Commission on The Arts and Humanities, Career Transitions for Dancers, Topaz Arts Center, NYSCA and has garnered extensive support from New York Organizations including The Thelma Hill Performing Arts Center, The Field, Dance New Amsterdam, New York Live Arts and is a graduate of the Long Island University New Media Art and Performance, Master of Fine Arts Program.