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Nakhane On Making An 'Existential Sex Album'

23 February 2023 | 12:44 pm | Anthony Carew

Nakhane is returning to Australia for a run of shows —including at Sydney Worldpride, Brisbane's ΩHM and WOMADelaide.

(Source: Supplied)

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“I thought I was making a sexy sex album,” laments Nakhane. The 35-year-old South African artist and rising queer icon is speaking about their new, third LP, Bastard Jargon, which didn’t turn out how they expected. In an artist statement, Nakahane calls it an ‘existential sex album’.

“I thought it was going to be sexy sex uncut: ‘fuck you, fuck me, oh this is the best!’” Nakhane says, self-deprecatingly, with a laugh. “Instead it ended up being a sex album that was much more psychological. Like: ‘when you did that my feelings were hurt, oh childhood trauma is fucking up my entire relationship!’ It’s more me asking: what do I need from relationships, and is what I’m doing ruining relationships? That stuff, you know, that rears its head when you’re questioning your core values.”

Bastard Jargon takes its name from a term Nakhane —born Nakhane Lubabalo Mavuso in Alice, South Africa— first encountered as a 20-year-old in a linguistics class. “Bastard Jargon is just when the language starts before it’s even a Pidgin or a Creole,” they explain. “I liked that it was a signifier of a new way of beginning, a new way of doing things. That term seemed apt.”

Beyond making a sexy sex album, the goals for Nakhane’s third record were for them to be more involved in the production —even as they worked alongside “high-profile producers” like Nile Rodgers and John Congleton— and to make something “quite different” from its predecessor, 2019’s balladic, widescreen You Will Not Die.

You Will Not Die was ornate and operatic because it was dealing with my formative years, [which] were spent in choirs with my mother and sisters,” says Nakhane. “I was using the musical language of that time, and thus the lyrical language was going to be ornate as well.”

“[But] when you’ve been touring something for two years, the sonic language, and even the spoken language, starts to weigh on you. I get bored quickly, and see no point in repeating myself,” Nakhane says. “Bastard Jargon had to be a turn towards something else.”

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The turn is towards upbeat, almost club-friendly tracks; with high tempos and insistent rhythms. In setting out writing the record, each song was “based on drums and melody”, with chords and chord progressions never the starting point for any composition. “Every single song was going to have drums, which I’ve never done,” states Nakhane.

After You Will Not Die was a kind of lyrical bloodletting, the initial intention for Bastard Jargon was to make something celebratory, revelling in the happiness of community and sexuality.

“I was like: ‘you know what, I’ve been singing the sad songs, and I’m just exhausted by that’,” Nakhane says. “This time around, I wanted to make something ruder, dirtier. I wanted to make a happier album!’”

Only the songs —which include appearances from Perfume Genius and Moonchild Sanelly— didn’t turn out that way; instead largely setting dark words against upbeat tunes.

“I’ve actually written some of the saddest lyrics that I’ve ever written on this album, but they’re surrounded by such uplifting music,” offers Nakhane. “You can go into [making an album] with a certain intention, but then life happens, and what you thought you were making changes… There’s a moment where you have to let go of your manifesto, the structures —and the strictures— that you’ve placed on yourself.”

Though working with largely electronic songs and collaborating with notable producers, Nakhane’s involvement in production allowed them to preserve “something wonky, something scuzzier” in the tunes. “I wouldn’t enjoy making an album that was squeaky clean, because that’s not me. I want some dirt in my palette. Some texture. Just when you thought this was lovely and pristine, here comes something filthy around the corner.”

Nakhane compares this impulse to when they were a child, learning classical music, and found themselves always feeling the need to insert something of their own amongst the compositions. “It drove music teachers crazy. ‘Can’t you just fucking play the sheet music?!’ It’s always been there for me, this instinct that I’ve followed. And I wanted to follow that to the hilt this time around.”

As a stage performer, Nakhane channels that same sense of expression, and of taking things to the hilt. Returning to Australia for a run of shows —including at Sydney Worldpride, Perth Festival and WOMADelaide— Nakhane is also returning to the stage for the first time in years. For them, it’s a connection with the mystical.

“There’s that feeling with performing where an hour feels like a minute, and suddenly you have to say ‘this is the last song’, and I want to cry because time disappeared. And I was in community with the people in the audience, and in that moment felt in touch with something greater. What some people might call ancestors, or others call God. Something much more spiritual. That’s joyful.”

That joy is amplified by Bastard Jargon’s songs; even if they’re emotionally more complex, and darker, than the music might suggest.

“The first 20 years of my life weren’t great,” Nakhane says. “It wasn’t that there were no moments of joy, but in a lot of ways I had a textbook traumatic childhood. Some things have been ingrained in my mind. I tend not to have a pretty view of life and the world around me.

“But [counter to that] is the feeling of the sheer wonder at being alive, and making music, and performing music… I’m starting to realise I’m actually more hopeful than I believe I am. I’m not as pessimistic as I’ve told myself I am. There’s always some rainbow at the end of the storm.”

Bastard Jargon will be released on 3 March via BMG. Pre-save the album here.




SAT 4 MARCH: OHM @ BRISBANE POWERHOUSE. Tickets are on sale here.

SUN 5 MARCH: PERTH FESTIVAL. Tickets are on sale here.

10-13 MARCH: WOMADelaide. Tickets are on sale here.

WED 15 MARCH: MELBOURNE RECITAL CENTRE. Tickets are on sale here.