Nakhane Mahlakahlaka (born Nakhane Lubabalo Mavuso,[1] 3 February 1988) is a South African singer, songwriter, actor, and novelist. Having grown up among a Christian community[2] in Port Elizabeth, at 15 they moved to Johannesburg, leaving the church[3] in 2013 and publicly celebrating their queerness with their debut album Brave Confusion.[4] They found both controversy and critical acclaim with their starring role in John Trengove's 2017 feature film Inxeba (The Wound), and relocated to London[5] to record and release 2018's heavily autobiographical album You Will Not Die. Their work has been championed by Elton John, who interviewed Nakhane on his Beats 1 radio show,[6] and Madonna, who cited them as one of her two favourite artists[7] and said their music influenced her 2019 album Madame X.[8]

Nakhane live at Omeara London 2018
Nakhane live at Omeara London 2018
Background information
Birth nameNakhane Lubabalo Mavuso
Born (1988-02-03) 3 February 1988 (age 33)
  • Singer
  • songwriter
  • actor
  • novelist

Nakhane is non-binary with they/them pronouns.[9]

Early lifeEdit

Nakhane was born Nakhane Lubabalo Mavuso[1] in Alice, a small rural town in South Africa's Eastern Cape, raised by their grandmother until they were five years old.[10] At seven they were adopted by their aunt,[11] whom they has said is “to all intents and purposes” their mother,[11] and their husband, growing up with them in Port Elizabeth, attending a racially-integrated school,[11] where they learnt to speak English. A few years later they changed their surname to theirs, Mahlakahlaka,[11] and, affirming a more distinctive identity, dropped their commonplace middle name.[11]

At 15 they moved to Johannesburg.[12] Having known they were gay for a few years,[13] at 17 they came out to their friends and cousins.[14] At 18 they began reading the work of James Baldwin, strongly identifying with the black queer characters;[13] Baldwin became a substantial influence. Nakhane studied two degrees at college – film music composition and acting, then literature, leaving both after a year.[13] At 19, an ex-girlfriend's mother outed Nakhane to their aunt,[15] who took them to prophets who encouraged them to renounce their homosexuality.[16] Meeting a pastor's son, they became devoutly religious, joined a conservative Baptist Church, regularly attended bible studies, undertook gay conversion therapy, and preached against homosexuality.[17]

Throughout five years of attempting to deny their homosexuality,[18] during which time they would secretly visit gay clubs,[19] they suffered guilt, fear and self-hatred.[13] They began to doubt the existence of God,[20] and at 25 had a breakdown, sleeping on sofas[21] thanks to compassionate friends the church had told them to cut ties with.[22] they extricated themselves from the church[3] and became more black-conscious.[23]

Music careerEdit

Beginnings (1995-2007)Edit

Nakhane knew they wanted to be an artist after singing at a Christmas carol concert at the age of seven.[11] Their aunt was a classically trained opera singer[17] and at home would play Handel, Mozart and Bach alongside Marvin Gaye and the O'Jays.[17] At school Nakhane played piano, studied classical trombone, played in a wind band and a steel band, and sang in a choir.[11] As a teenager they were inspired by George Michael's music and unapologetic queerness,[24] and was later influenced by Radiohead,[25] Leonard Cohen,[1] and South African acts such as TKZee, Brenda Fassie, Hugh Maskela and Thandiswa Mazwai.[1] They worked part-time in a music shop, musically educating themself via the CDs they brought home.[2]

Acoustic-guitar music and Brave Confusion (2007-2014)Edit

At 19 their aunt bought them an acoustic guitar[1] and they began writing songs, performing in open-mic clubs[26] and eventually getting signed,[16] calling themself Nakhane Touré in tribute to Malian musician Ali Farka Touré[27] and as an ode to pan-Africanism.[1] Their debut album, the acoustic guitar-driven Brave Confusion, released on 29 July 2013, was influenced by Ali Farka Touré and West African music.[1] Lyrically it explored race, religion and sexuality.[4] In 2014, Nakhane won the Best Alternative Album award at the South African Music Awards.[13] Although they had left the church, that night their pastor telephoned to tell them they were excommunicated.[2]

Electronic music and You Will Not Die (2015-present)Edit

Disillusioned with the folk scene's perceived authenticity,[28] Nakhane began to gravitate towards a more electronic sound.[16] In 2015, they had a club hit, "We Dance Again", with house DJ Black Coffee,[29] then began writing their second album. Nearing their 30s and looking for closure, they wanted to end their 20s “on a positive note instead of an angry and bitter note”,[22] the new songs inspired by their childhood, their family, and their leaving the church.[28] With a new sense of freedom and self-ownership, they dropped their stage surname Touré,[30] viewing You Will Not Die as a rebirth. The album title was taken from Proverbs 23:13, referring to child discipline: ‘If you punish them with the rod, they will not die.'[28]

Eschewing acoustic guitar, they wrote it on piano,[16] recording 98% of it with producer Ben Christophers at the latter's London studio;[13] Nakhane settled in the city in February 2018.[31] They wanted to work with electronic drums and synthesisers, and told Christophers they wanted the album to sound like the second side of David Bowie's Low, “but with the spirit of Nina Simone.” It was released on 16 March 2018.[32] Clash Music called it ‘an incredibly beautiful document of self-acceptance, a soaring ode to self-worth, a blissful, remarkably assured piece of creativity.'[33] Q magazine wrote that it was a ‘remarkable' album, ‘defiantly modern and unashamedly emotional.'[34] A deluxe edition, featuring the Anohni collaboration "New Brighton", was released in North America on 22 February 2019.[35] Pitchfork wrote that the album was ‘an instant revelation on its own terms,' calling it ‘strikingly intimate.'[36] In May 2019 it won Best Alternative Album at the South African Music Awards.[37]

In June 2019, to mark the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, sparking the start of the modern LGBTQ rights movement, Queerty named them one of the Pride50 “trailblazing individuals who actively ensure society remains moving towards equality, acceptance and dignity for all queer people”.[38]

Acting careerEdit

Following the release of Brave Confusion, film director John Trengove contacted Nakhane, asking them if they'd consider making the music for their 2017 film Inxeba (The Wound).[39] After they met, Trengove asked them if they'd audition to play the lead role of factory worker Xolani in the film,[39] which deals with ulwaluko – an Xhosa initiation into manhood involving circumcision, which Nakhane had undertaken aged 20.[40]

Due to protests, intimidation and vandalism in response to the film in South Africa, many cinemas cancelled screenings.[41] Having initially been classified as a 16LS, it was then reclassified as X18,[42] a certification usually reserved for hardcore pornography. In response, on social media Nakhane wrote of homophobia, saying they refused ‘to live in shame for your patriarchy to keep on living.'[43] Following “an onslaught”[22] of graphic death threats for their part in the film,[19] they resolved to speak out in the media as much as possible.[22] Despite media perception that they left South Africa because of the threats, they said that they moved to London in order to tour Europe less expensively, but admitted that ‘times were not necessarily nice for me in South Africa,' and said the death threats made it hard to return to the Eastern Cape.[18]

The film was selected as the South African entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at 2018's 90th Academy Awards, making the top-nine shortlist.[44] Nakhane won awards for Best Actor at Durban International Film Festival, Palm Springs International Film Festival, South African Film And Television Awards, and Valencia International Film Festival Cinema Jove.[45] The Hollywood Reporter called their performance ‘an impressive screen debut.'[46] The Playlist wrote that they were ‘incredibly affecting as their quiet, secretive, lonely soul.'[47]

After watching Inxeba (The Wound) and then listening to their music, John Cameron Mitchell cast Nakhane as Jairo, ‘a young man who struggles with a host of demons', in 2019's Anthem: Homunculus podcast musical.[48]


In 2015, Nakhane's debut novel Piggy Boy's Blues was published, set in their hometowns of Alice and Port Elizabeth and portraying a Xhosa royal family.[49] It was nominated for the Barry Ronge Fiction Prize and the Etisalat Prize for Fiction.[13]



  • 2013: Brave Confusion
  • 2019: You Will Not Die


  • 2017: The Wound - as Xolani
  • 2019: Anthem: Homunculus - as Jairo (8 episodes, TV series)
  • 2020: Two Eyes - as Thandi


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Cagnolari, Vladimir (9 May 2018). "Nakhane: the voice of an angel who beats the devil".
  2. ^ a b c "Ousted from his hometown, Nakhane Touré finds salvation in music". Document Journal. 22 February 2019.
  3. ^ a b "The big Nakhane interview – part 2". Music In Africa. 14 May 2018.
  4. ^ a b Ncube, Gibson (3 July 2015). "To be black, Christian and gay: Nakhane Touré's Brave Confusion". Muziki. 12 (2): 37–52. doi:10.1080/18125980.2015.1127622. S2CID 146899289.
  5. ^ "Nakhane on refusing acne treatment: We need pop stars with acne scars". TimesLIVE.
  6. ^ "WATCH: Sir Elton John interviews SA queer star Nakhane - IOL Entertainment".
  7. ^ "Madonna on Instagram: "Was such a treat introducing my 2 favorite artists tonight in Lisbon! @_mykki_ 💙 @nakhaneofficial 🦄🦄 #fearless #unique #inspiring"". Instagram. Archived from the original on 2021-12-25.
  8. ^ "Madonna Talks LGBTQ Fans, Queer Artists & More Following Her GLAAD Media Award Win: Exclusive". Billboard.
  9. ^ NAKHANE (June 26, 2019). "Talking to my mom about being non-binary". Twitter. Retrieved September 27, 2021.
  10. ^ "What's eating Nakhane Touré?". News24. 28 April 2014.
  11. ^ a b c d e f g TEDx Talks (8 February 2016). "To live life true to self - Nakhane Touré - TEDxJohannesburg" – via YouTube.
  12. ^ Mokoena, Tshepo (12 April 2018). "Nakhane: 'For as long as I need to, I'm going to talk about being a gay artist'" – via
  13. ^ a b c d e f g Schlutt, Marcel (16 March 2018). "Artist Of The Week: Nakhane! An Interview". KALTBLUT Magazine.
  14. ^ Kent, Matthew (12 October 2018). "Down to the marrow with Nakhane and his queer idols 🌹". DICE Blog.
  15. ^ "Down to the marrow with Nakhane and his queer idols 🌹". 17 October 2018.
  16. ^ a b c d "People Threatened to Kill Nakhane—Here's Why He's No Longer Afraid". GQ. 21 March 2018.
  17. ^ a b c Schneier, Matthew (6 March 2019). "For Nakhane, Songs Can Be Painful and Dangerous. His New Album Is a Balm". The New York Times.
  18. ^ a b "Nakhane's Music Meets At Life's Intersections: 'There's Nothing To Be Ashamed Of'".
  19. ^ a b "Meet Nakhane: the religious rebel who makes fearless, fascinating music". Double J. 28 September 2018.
  20. ^ nowthisnews (2 February 2019). "South African Artist and LGBTQ+ Advocate Nakhane Opens Up About Finding His True Voice". NowThis.
  21. ^ "Nakhane Toure on facing death threats after film debut". 6 November 2018.
  22. ^ a b c d "Singer and actor Nakhane Toure on his music, coming out in South Africa and rejecting Christianity". Channel 4 News. 24 February 2019.
  23. ^ "The big Nakhane interview – part 2". 14 May 2018.
  24. ^ "Journal".
  25. ^ "Episode 155: Nakhane". 20 March 2019.
  26. ^ Pressigny, Clementine de; Greenwood, Douglas (2 February 2018). "this south african singer embraced his sexuality and found his voice".
  27. ^ Okumu, Phiona Okumu (6 November 2013). "Nakhane Touré - Fog: New music from South Africa" – via
  28. ^ a b c "Nakhane Is Still Learning". them. 20 February 2019.
  29. ^ Hutchinson, Kate (3 March 2018). "One to watch: Nakhane" – via
  30. ^ "Nakhane On New Music, The Problem With Queer Role Models, And Late-Onset 'Inxeba' Trauma". HuffPost UK. 13 March 2018.
  31. ^ "Elton John sings Nakhane's praises".
  32. ^ Subscribe. "Nakhane - You Will Not Die". DIY.
  33. ^ "Nakhane - You Will Not Die". Clash Magazine.
  34. ^ "Nakhane Official Website - Music, Tour, Lyrics, Book, Film". Nakhane.
  35. ^ "Nakhane Faces His Fears on Anohni-Assisted 'New Brighton': Watch". Billboard.
  36. ^ "Nakhane: You Will Not Die". Pitchfork.
  37. ^ "Sho Madjozi makes her mark at #SAMA25".
  38. ^ Tracer, Daniel (2019-05-17). "Once a poster child for conversion therapy, musician Nakhane now preaches queerness". Retrieved 2019-06-08.
  39. ^ a b "Interview - Actor and singer Nakhane talks about starring in the widely praised The Wound". 2 May 2018.
  40. ^ "Live and don't die". The Spectator. 5 January 2019.
  41. ^ "EC cinemas cancel screening of Inxeba 'The Wound'". eNCA.
  42. ^ "Inxeba producer on X18 classification: We are obviously disappointed". Channel. 14 February 2018.
  43. ^ "Nakhane".
  44. ^ "The Wound wins international awards as race for Oscar gains momentum". TimesLIVE.
  45. ^ "CINEMA".
  46. ^ "'The Wound': Film Review - Sundance 2017". The Hollywood Reporter. 22 January 2017.
  47. ^ "'The Wound' Is A Powerful, Natural & Humanist Drama [Review]".
  48. ^ "Nakhane Makes His Theater Debut (Sort Of)". PAPER. 3 May 2019.
  49. ^ Toure, Nakhane. "Piggy boy's blues". Amazon. Retrieved September 27, 2021.

External linksEdit