Over the past few months, soul music has had a bit of a revival. You’ve seen here on our site with features on Mayer Hawthorne and Frank Ocean, and likely multiple other outlets as well. Why is soul making a comeback? Easy. When you have singers who understand the history and meaning of the genre, yet are willing to put a new and interesting spin on it, which revitalizes interest. The latest such person you can add to that list is British singer Michael Kiwanuka.
The son of Ugandan parents, Kiwanuka grew up in Muswell Hill, for those of you who don’t know, that’s in North London. The 24-year-old has been favorably compared to Bill Withers and Otis Redding, as well as Van Morrison and the Temptations. Not too shabby company to be put in with only one album to his credit. He has listed groups like Nirvana, Radiohead, The Offspring and Blur as influences, in addition to classic rockers like Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix. At one point, he thought he was going to be more likely to playing for his beloved Tottenham Hotspur football club instead performing in music venues.
Though he’s been performing in bands since he was 16, Kiwanuka got his professional start as a session musician. He dabbled writing his own material that weren’t intended for public consumption, it took until 2011 for the singer to play his first solo gigs. Shortly thereafter, he was signed to Communion Records in the UK. The label put out two critically acclaimed EPs and he even went out on the road with Adele during her major breakthrough tour. Not too shabby for a guy who wasn’t even performing as a solo artist until earlier that year.
If that wasn’t enough, Kiwanuka won the BBC’s prestigious Sound Of award for 2012. For those of you who don’t know, Sound of... is an annual poll of music critics and industry figures to find the most promising new music talent. Past winners include Adele, Ellie Goulding and Keane. That’s pretty high praise for a guy who hadn’t put out a full-length record…until now.
Having released Home Again digitally in May, this week marks the physical release of the singer’s debut. Signed to Cherry Hill/Interscope, it may be surprising for someone with as short of a resume as Kiwanuka’s to have such a meteoric rise.
As we featured last week in our album review, this is a singer who’s on the cusp. He writes killer songs that come from the heart and his voice compares favorably to the aforementioned the artists above. Plain and simple, Michael Kiwanuka has the complete package that combines a musical and vocal prowess with terrific songwriting. That isn’t easy to find and if his first album is any indication of what’s to come, the future is very, very bright for this Brit and if he and his fellow soul singers are any indicator of what's to come, then the genre of neo-soul is in very good shape.
If you like what you just read, take a listen to Kiwanuka's music below: