The story of Nathaniel Nakasa has all the makings of a classic tragedy. Nakasa, a talented black journalist from South Africa, was selected to be a Nieman Fellow in the class of 1965. His country’s apartheid government would not issue him a passport though, and only allowed him to leave on a one-way exit visa. Following his fellowship year, he settled in New York City. Suffering from homesickness and feeling isolated in the new country, he died that summer after falling from a high-rise building in an apparent suicide. He was 28.
Now Nakasa’s story is coming to the stage in “A Distant Drum,” a musical theater piece about his life created by violinist Daniel Hope and his father, South African writer Christopher Hope. Their production is loosely based on Igor Stravinsky’s “Soldier’s Tale,” about a Russian soldier who sells his soul to the devil. The show premieres in Blomfontein, South Africa on October 13, and will be performed at Carnegie Hall in New York on October 28th as part of the UBUNTU festival, celebrating the music and arts of South Africa.
The musical production comes shortly after Nat Nakasa’s body, which had been buried in a New York cemetery, was returned to South Africa in August, thanks to the efforts of the Nieman Society of Southern Africa and other supporters. He was also the subject of a 2013 biography by Ryan Brown, “A Native of Nowhere.”