London songwriter brings back ‘70s American soul music


Singer-songwriter Michael Kiwanuka offers calm and warm music reminiscent of the soul classics of the ‘70s in his debut album Home Again.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

On first listen, Michael Kiwanuka’s debut album Home Again does not sound like it was recorded a mere year ago. The deep, fuzzy warmth of the album makes sounds like some long-lost American soul musician from the ‘70s rather than a 24-year-old singer-songwriter from London.

While the amount of electronic indie pop and rock bands seems to be on a never-ending rise, it is this time-spanning musician that was announced as the most promising new talent of the year by the music industry insiders behind the BBC’s Sound of 2012 poll.

“I found my influences to be friends from school that showed me music from an early age,” Kiwanuka said. “We just bonded over bands we liked.”

After picking up a guitar while in school and jamming with classmates, Kiwanuka turned his passion for playing into a career. “I started playing professionally in my late teens so I could get a bit of money and play for other people around London,” Kiwanuka said. He began working as a studio musician, playing guitar for recording sessions and live performances with London artists like Chipmunk and Bashy.

As his session career continued, Kiwanuka began writing songs of his own. These songs would later get him noticed by British songstress Adele, who asked Kiwanuka to open for her for part of her 2011 tour. Even though Kiwanuka’s musical emotion is milder than Adele’s tales of heartbreak and lost love, the tone of his voice conveys feelings of yearning and hope for love just as clearly.

This year has brought Kiwanuka a flurry of United States tour dates and festival slots like Lollapalooza in Chicago and Outside Lands Music & Arts Festival in San Francisco in addition to his upcoming performance at the ACL Festival. And Home Again is in the running for the 2012 Barclaycard Mercury Prize, an annual honor bestowed upon the best album from the United Kingdom and Ireland.

In the midst of all this industry buzz, Kiwanuka remains humble about his success.

“When you get to support artists, you get to play music for an audience that might not have heard you otherwise,” Kiwanuka said. “But it’s nice to finally have a chance to do my own thing.”

Home Again showcases Kiwanuka “doing his own thing” beautifully. The album opens with “Tell Me a Tale,” a song with slow-burning electric jazz guitar and a ‘70s jazz flute. Kiwanuka’s voice is full of deep yearning: “Lord, I need loving/Lord, I need good, good loving.” His voice has the sweetness and maturity of soul musicians Bill Withers and Otis Redding with the added swing of his British accent.

On tracks such as “Home Again” and “I’m Getting Ready,” his acoustic guitar playing is folksy and simple. And while his music is a nod to a by-gone musical era, Kiwanuka holds his own in the year 2012 as a voice from another time.

Kiwanuka is looking forward to visiting Austin since his shows last spring during South By Southwest. “I do like the town because there’s a lot of music lovers there,” Kiwanuka said. “I do like playing places like that.”

Kiwanuka will be playing at ACL Festival at 4:30 p.m. Saturday at the Austin Ventures stage.

Printed on Monday, October 8, 2012 as: London artist debuts at ACL, brings American soul music