Artist Watch: Meet Michael Kiwanuka

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


Sometimes when a person is lauded by a 'prestigious' title my Claire Huxtable side-eye gets the best of me. It's all because that 'special' marker doesn't translate beyond that hype, and then I'm one built-up and duped buttercup. While I'm not a native of UK, I'm always interested at whoever gets pegged for the annual BBC Sound Of.... because I find myself championing some of those names later on this blog. Still the whole thing is a crapshoot, you never know who really is going to live up to that title (just look at who was chosen last year and how that turned out). So I proceeded with caution about Michael Kiwanuka, a relatively unknown London bred singer-songwriter-guitarist, who beat out such fan favorites like Frank Ocean and Lianne La Havas and provoked tons of scalp scratches. So who is this guy and is he really all that great? Pretty soon I understood why Kiwanuka was chosen---and not just because he sings well.

We've been there and done that with all the nostalgic turns music has been on for the past several years, but what sort of delighted me about Kiwanuka was while everything he's doing isn't new, it just didn't feel forced. He lets himself sort of ease into the material and has a real affection for the sound his has cultivated. Based off of his influence list (Bill Withers, Van Morrison, and Otis Redding), his whole sound is out of time, and wise beyond his 24 years. Hell, sometimes you think you hear the crackle of a worn LP when you hear his stuff, but somehow it's just right for 2012. He didn't have me at his single, "Home Again", he snatched me off guard with the delicately woven, "Tell Me A Tale", which has some mighty fine arranging and instrumentation going on. Now this is an unique song and it reminded me of if you put Blood, Sweat, & Tears in a blender with some Ray Charles sensibility and stirred it all up. For a further check-out, "I Need Your Company" and "They Say I'm Doing Just Fine" gave me some real old time religion where Kiwanuka does neat interplay of Gospel, Folk, and good-old-fashioned Soul. Based on that material, I can clearly see why he was chosen and maybe BBC's Sound of 2012 has a rightful owner. Kiwanuka's debut album, Home Again, will be available come March 26th, and hopefully will live up to the praise.

Tell Me A Tale 


I Need Your Company


They Say I'm Doing Just Fine

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