Nkoli: The Vogue Opera – the making of a musical about a queer liberation activist in South Africa

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11/17/2023

The history of South Africa’s struggle against apartheid (separatist white minority rule) is taught only through the broadest of brushstrokes in the country’s schools. So might music be a way to bring the story of one anti-apartheid activist alive for a new generation? And when that activist is a Black gay man, Simon Nkoli (1957-1998), how do you reclaim his story from the stereotypes all of those labels potentially carry? Those were the challenges facing South African composer Philip Miller when he began work on what became Nkoli: The Vogue Opera, on at The Market Theatre in Johannesburg. As part of my ongoing research into South African music, I interviewed Miller and members of the company about how Nkoli came to the stage.

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