With four nominations, Nakhane Toure is the dark horse at this year’s South African Music Awards. However, he is about to set music fans a-Twitter with his new video for his latest single, In the Dark Room. The video was released on YouTube at 6am today. Therese Owen was on set at Constitutional Hill.
It has never happened before. Normally, when a music video is being shot, there is a variety of make-up artists, dancers, extras, featured artists, directors, record representatives, camera crews from various TV entertainment shows and groupies on hand.
This was not the case when Nakhane Toure filmed his latest video, In the Dark Room. The location was a former prison cell deep in Constitutional Hill.
It was really quiet when I arrived, except for the strains of Toure’s beautiful voice heard over the haunting song’s instrumentals.
Make-up artist Liz Anderson was outside, as was a dour lighting guy. There was also a really hot young man dressed only in his briefs, waiting for his turn to be filmed.
When the scene was finally finished inside, the fragile Toure, dressed like David Bowie’s Thin White Duke, came out and hugged me warmly.
On meeting the director Mark Middlewick, he explained the concept behind the video: “We are trying to turn this video into an art piece, which means we want it to be open to interpretation by the viewer. It is homoerotic, it could be socio-political.”
It is shot in black and white and has a minimalist feel to it.
“As a gay Xhosa man, Nakhane has been open from the beginning which many other people have been scared to reveal,” said Mark.
The concept behind the video is that Toure is performing almost operatically and directly to the camera. Then, a third of the way into the video, a muscular man enters. He watches Toure and then attempts to interact with him. Toure ignores him.
At first the man is transfixed and begins to stroke his face. However, Toure’s lack of response leads to the man becoming aggres- sive towards him. Throughout the video his interaction with Toure fluctuates between aggression and affection.
Mark continued: “Nakhane thinks like an artist. His reference is wide and he has a dramatic way of performing. He wants to challenge people.
“We could have made the video a lot more aggressive, but we held back. We are not trying to shock people. It’s okay if people hate it. They’re allowed to. It says something about where our society is at.”
It is time for the next scene and as I walk on set I sense immediately that I am intruding. There is a delicate energy between director, the DOP (director of photography) and Toure. In fact, so intense is the chemistry in that cell, that anyone else would totally disrupt it. I left immediately.
On my way out I came across actors rehearsing for a play that is set to take place on Constitutional Hill. They were all dressed in orange uniforms and being yelled at by white wardens.
“This is where you receive your pap!” yelled the warden. “The third column is reserved for you non-whites.”
I stayed, mesmerised by how the scene evoked the horrors that took place in this former prison. The wardens were beating them, calling them racist names. It was all really depressing. Then it dawned on me.
From such a violent, oppressive past which was happening in this play, in a room next door a young black man was expressing himself with a rock ’n’ roll inspiration of Bowie and freely making a video that would horrify every heterosexual oppressor over the past 400 years. I left Con Hill thinking everything is going to be okay.
A few days later I meet my darling Toure and his sweet smile to discuss the idea behind the song.
“It was inspired partly by the first night I went to a gay club. It was called De Tour, in Pretoria. I walked out into a net of lights and looked up. I knew then that whatever I did would bounce off God. I was a completely different person when I left.
“When I write a song I always question what vocals I should use. It can only work if I deal with the subject matter metaphorically. Then in the chorus I deal with the truth.
“I was raised to be unconditional. This song and this video deal with affection and brutality.”
Summing up the journey of the song and the video, Toure says: “We think we are liberal. I might be free in Jozi, but I am not free in my hometown of Alice in the Eastern Cape.”
Watching the video a few days later, the feeling of the song is reflected in it.
Toure gives an extraordinary performance, never once taking his eyes off the camera. He understands his art because he is honestly portraying his feelings. There is no compromising his art for the dizzying heights of immediate, shallow fame.
The song is taken from his debut album, Brave Confusion, which is rightly nominated four times at the upcoming Samas. This includes Album of the Year. Coincidentally, Brave Confusion was Tonight’s Album of the Year pick last year.
That Toure is destined for something bigger, there is no doubt.
His unique take on rock music is akin to a mixture of Prince, Bowie, his traditional Xhosa rhythms and his own unique interpretation of the world and the bountiful music that is in his soul.