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'Truth Wins In The End': South Africa's Nakhane Toure On Hate, Home And Hope

Nakhane Toure still thinks deeply on his starring role in 2017's The Wound, or Inxeba, a film in the South African language of Xhosa which shined a light on homosexual relationships that occur during a secret tribal ceremony.

An arthouse release shot on a tiny budget, it was later shortlisted for an Academy Award.

It also saw Nakhane and other actors ostracised and heavily criticised amidst burning outrage in South Africa, over the film's focus on the relationships that occur during the secret Xhosa initiation ritual known as ulwaluko.

"I knew people would be annoyed, even angry. I didn't think people would detail how they wanted to kill me," the diminutive polymath told 10 daily from sunny Sydney, a million miles from his old home in South Africa and his new home in London.

He spoke to us during a whistlestop promotional tour, ahead of his Australian visit as part of the festival season, beginning this week.

"That was surprising, and how wide it went. I thought it would be a little niche arthouse film. I didn't think I'd be having debates with Xhosa royalty on national radio," he said with a wry smile.

"I didn't think it would be a complete mess."

Ulwaluko is a traditional rite of passage in the Eastern Cape province, where young men trek into the bush to undergo ritual circumcision and initiation ceremonies.

Nelson Mandela detailed the process in his book Long Walk to Freedom, despite the process meant to be kept as a secret among male initiates.

However, recent years have seen more attention paid, as deaths and gruesome injuries from the traditional circumcision procedure are exposed, and South Africa begin to discuss the ceremony.

The Wound sees Toure -- also an accomplished musician, singer and writer off-camera -- play one of the caregivers for the young men taking part in the ritual, and his relationship with other caregivers and initiates.

The film received an X18+ classification, usually reserved for pornography, and was met with protests and outrage. It also won best film awards at festivals worldwide, with Toure himself winning best actor gongs.

"It opened up a conversation. We were not the first people to have the conversation but it kicked the doors open for that conversation to be had by millions of people. That excited me," Toure, an out gay man, said proudly.

He underwent the ritual as a 20-year-old and said the film reflects how he felt about the process.

The truth wins in the end. I hope so.

He speaks slowly and purposefully, pausing often and thinking deeply, then rushing out an essay's worth of thought in a single breath -- on and off, like a dripping tap. A powerful and thoughtful intellect lies behind the angular facial features and large, deep eyes.

(Alon Skuy/Sunday Times/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

He's happy to be in Sydney, happy to be talking about his art, happy with his new life in London which has been filled with plaudits for his new album 'You Will Not Die' and late-night texts from Madonna and praise from Elton John.

But there's a sadness bubbling just below the surface, which leeches to the top every now and then.

Threats after the film's release saw him have to leave the Eastern Cape, where he was born and lived. He hasn't been back since.

"I want to be able to take a walk down the beach. It was something I always used to do," Toure said.

He looks away, licks his lips, thinking hard. A long pause in an otherwise flowing and fascinating conversation.

"That I miss," he added finally.

"I love home. Maybe I'll be able to [go home] one day... that hurts."

He called himself "rootless", and gently pushed back on the idea that London is his "home" -- saying that, most accurately, it's just the place where his clothes are.

But he's in Sydney to talk about music. His latest album is a startling collection of songs that may fit most easily in the category of R'n'B, but draw on gospel, electronica, pop and house.

It's emotionally raw and musically arresting, intimate and nocturnal, his soulful croon sitting atop stabbing synths and drums, electric guitar lines, and a choir of tribal voices.

It's about his journey of recent years, of forgiving friends and family and even himself, of growing. 'You Will Not Die', Nakhane said, refers to taking a leap and trusting everything will be OK.

Since moving to London, he has been feted by publications such as The Guardian and Clash, had praise heaped on him by Elton John. After a random text message from out of the blue, he ended up having dinner with Madonna -- and they became virtual pen pals.

https://open.spotify.com/album/5jvLv6vSZnDEYr24ZQJPye?si=pE8xwdwVRS6z4lTOFU4Emg

"I'm surprised at how fast it has happened, but I knew it was going to happen," he said confidently.

Lest it is taken as a conceited boast, he explains:

"Otherwise I wouldn't have written the songs or recorded them. If you want me to say like 'I had no idea'... lies! I knew my abilities. Also, I gave up a lot for it," Nakhane said.

"I sacrificed everything to be where I am. It becomes confirmation I made the right decision. Not an ego thing like 'of course I knew it was going to happen because I'm fucking amazing'. No, I don't feel amazing all the time, but I want to better myself and there's always room for improvement."

"Each project you do is a battle to reach your imagination."

Nakhane performs at the Sydney Festival's Spiegeltent on January 18 and Carriageworks on January 21, Tasmania's Mona Foma on January 20, Brisbane's Tivoli on January 24, at Midsumma in Melbourne on February 1 and Howler on February 2.