Chuffed to Bits: British Music Artist on the Rise – Michael Kiwanuka

Several months ago, I ordered a copy of the acclaimed British music magazine, MOJO, to be sent to me in the post.  The particular issue I ordered also came with a compilation CD featuring artists on the London music label, Communion.  Communion is of great interest to me, not only because the label was co-founded by Ben Lovett, a member of one of my favourite bands, Mumford & Sons, but also because they specialise in working with very talented singer/songwriters, many of whom I’ve recommended in previous columns (such as Daughter, Pete Roe, Marcus Foster, and Johnny Flynn).

Once I received my copy of the magazine and gave a cursory glance at the names on the back of the accompanying CD, I put it on, turned up the volume, and went about tidying up my kitchen.  Then, I heard a voice that made me stop dead in my tracks.  I heard this:

 

To my ears, it sounded like the second coming of Otis Redding, and I actually got goosebumps on my arms whilst listening to it.  So I picked up the CD jewel case once again, and checked to see who the voice that had floored me belonged to.  Michael Kiwanuka was his name.  I put the song on repeat, finished up my chores in the kitchen, then headed straight for my computer to find more of his music.

The next song of Michael’s that I stumbled upon—as a result of my Internet search—was called Bones.  The video I found for it was of a performance he’d done at Union Chapel in London.  I fell in love with the song, and even more so with his voice.

 

Every song of Michael’s that I came across thereafter thrilled me.  His voice and sound reminded me of the great soul singers my parents had loved and had raised me on, like Otis, Marvin Gaye, Sam Cooke, Bill Withers, and Curtis Mayfield.

 

A bit more Internet sleuthing led me to additional information on Michael.  He grew up in Muswell Hill, London and his parents are from Uganda.  He’s only been writing songs for about 3 years (which I found simply stunning, considering he’s only 23), and I learnt he had recently opened for the incomparable Adele on her summer tour, and would also be opening for my beloved Laura Marling.

I checked his gig schedule, dying to know if he’d be in my neck of the woods anytime soon, and discovered that he was scheduled to play a free show in Birmingham during the same time I’d be on holiday in England.  I decided that a day trip to see him perform live was absolutely in order.

And so on a fine Tuesday afternoon in October, I boarded a train to the hometown of Ozzy Osbourne and Duran Duran, checked myself into a nearby Premier Inn upon arrival, and ventured off to see Michael perform at a tiny jazz club near the city centre called The Yardbird.  Here’s just a taste of what I witnessed that evening:

 

Getting the chance to see an incredible talent like Michael perform in such a small venue before he really hit the big time… I can say, unequivocally, that it was absolutely worth the trip.  Michael sings with a wisdom far beyond his 23 years.  His sound is a mix of soul, folk, and jazz that he melds together so beautifully.  He truly makes what he does look effortless.

Michael is garnering all sorts of attention in the music industry these days.  He was recently nominated for the BRITs Critics’ Choice Award, and is also one of 15 artists nominated for the BBC Sound of 2012 Award.  He’s been featured on BBC Radio 1, as well as on Later… With Jools Holland.

 

Currently, he has released two EPs, with a third coming out at the beginning of 2012.  His full-length, debut album, Home Again, will be released on the 26th of March, 2012.  He’ll also be playing live throughout the UK through February.  If you get the opportunity to see Michael perform live, don’t hesitate.  Do. It.  I promise that your ears, heart, and soul will thank you profusely.

You can find out more about Michael Kiwanuka on his official website at http://michaelkiwanuka.com/

Comments

  1. avataralan walden says

    I have no idea what made you think he sounds like an Otis? Can you elaborate please?

    Alan Walden
    2003 Inductee, Georgia Music Hall Of Fame
    Co-Manager of Otis Redding 1962 – 1967

  2. avatarAmie says

    Hello Alan-

    Firstly, I want to say that I’m so very honored that you read my piece. :-)

    Although Michael would probably cringe at even being mentioned in the same breath as such a legend as Mr. Redding, he reminds me of Otis because of the emotion and soul that his voice evokes. Listening to his music makes me think of tracks like “These Arms of Mine” and “Pain in My Heart”. Actually, Michael himself has stated that he came upon a rare recording of “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay”, which inspired him and influenced his sound:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/soundof/2012/artists/michaelkiwanuka/#p00m9nqx

    Music is so very subjective and personal, and being as close to Otis as I would imagine you were, you certainly have license to disagree with me. However, in my defense, I’m not the first to think of Otis when listening to Michael:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2011/nov/11/michael-kiwanuka-live-review

    http://www.state.ie/37359-live-reviews/michael-kiwanuka-new-york

    Again, thank you so very much for reading. It’s an honor, truly.

    Sincerely Yours,

    Amie

  3. avatarShanna May says

    The question is, how can you NOT hear Otis in this spectacular sounding voice?! I feel utterly transfixed and instantly transported back to the sixties when I listen.

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