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A telling indicator of Michael Kiwanuka's relative anonymity came in an episode of the TV gameshow Pointless shown in early 2013. 100 people were shown a picture of Michael performing at Radio 1's Big Weekend 2012. How many recognised him? Zero. And more than half recognised Will.I.Am. What a world. To paraphrase the opening track, this Londoner can tell us tales we can really feel.
His debut album evokes classic soul and folk, fusing Dylan and Redding in particular into a lilting ride. Spiritual and humble lyrics (backed up by his charming public persona), a deep and moving voice, and some subtly brilliant guitar work all make for a wonderful journey. The title track and I'm Getting Ready are perhaps the highlights, both very musically basic but honest and affecting to the core. It's hard to pick out weaker tracks, but I'm not sure the more uptempo sound of I'll Get Along is the right one for him to pursue in future. He's spoken of the pressure to fit clichés of urban music more closely, and has admitted that he was uncomfortable as a black guitarist until he discovered that Jimi Hendrix was black - what a good job he's followed his own path.
Michael Kiwanuka is a twenty four year old British soul singer who grew up in North London. He is of Ugandan heritage - his parents lived in Uganda but escaped from Idi Amin's regime in the 1970's. Michael is a musician as well as a singer and he is able to play the guitar and flute. He studied jazz at the Royal Academy of Music and pop music at Westminster University, until he became inspired to create his own music career. His initial aim upon joining the whole music scene was to become a session guitarist and song writer, but I am so glad that he chose to become a singer as well as his voice is absolutely stunning! His vocal style is really unique and he combines soul and folk together beautifully.
His accent and the unique twang that his voice has is gorgeous and his music is instantly recogniseable - whenever a song of his comes on the radio I get ridiculously excited and turn it up full blast! Because Michael writes all his songs himself, each one is unique with a noticeably fresh vibe to it. Also, the fact that he writes his own material is completely obvious upon listening to his songs because his voice is pure emotion; with all of his songs, each and every word sounds true, genuine and just 'special', you know? It feels like he's speaking directly to the person listening.. telling them the stories of his life - it's really lovely to listen to and I find that his music is very calming and relaxing due to the smooth and gentle vocals.
It's almost like when I press the play button, everything else in the world just dissapears for a few minutes, which I think is a great quality for music to have. Most of his songs are quite in-depth, however because all of his songs are reasonably fast paced with very upbeat and almost magical instrumentals, one of his songs wouldn't sound out of place at a party or barbeque etc - especially because his songs give off such a feel-good vibe. Michael is signed to Mumford & Sons' Communion label and lists some of his influences as Bill Withers, Bob Dylan, Eric Bibb, Tommy Sims and Richie Havens. Although I absolutely love Michael's music, there's no doubt that his music isn't as well known as it deserves to be.
He has become slightly more well known over the past few months due to winning the BBC Sound of 2012 award, but unfortunetly almost all of my friends are oblivious to his music. To be honest though, I myself only recently discovered his music a few weeks ago. I came across one of his songs (an Ed Sheeran collab) by mistake one night while browsing YouTube and I have since purchased his debut album - Home Again via iTunes. I paid £5.99 for the album, which I feel is a reasonable price for an album with ten full track albums. The individual songs on the album can be purchased for 99 pence each, which is an absolute bargain as in my experience, it's really easy to replay the same song ten times without even realising!
Home Again is Michael's debut album and it was released on the 8th of March 2012. The album sold 70,000 copies in the UK in the space of around just over two months. The album was produced by Paul Butler - the lead vocalist from the reggae indie band 'The Bees'. The album was recorded in a basement studio in Paul's house which is nicknamed 'The Steam Rooms'. Michael, when talking about recording the album stated that "I got to play a bit more electric, and a bit of bass, and it turned out to be quite a soulful record. It's got folk things there but also influences like Shuggie Otis and Curtis Mayfield. I really enjoyed making it." The album peaked at number four in the UK charts, number three in the French charts and number two in the Belgian charts.
To date, the album has an average review score of four out of five stars and has been described as an 'aural instagram' by a reviewer for The Guardian. A majority of the reviews that I have read on this album have quite rightly being very positive and the only bad comment that I have come across was that the album was 'stale' which I completely disagree with - this is one of the freshest, most unique albums around at the minute in my opinion! The album artwork is very unique while being minimalstic - I won't describe what it looks like though as there is a picture attatched to my review. The album has ten full length tracks and an overall runtime of around thirty eight minutes. The songs are as follows:
Tell Me a Tale is the first track on the album. Ths is an absolutely perfect album intro with magical melodies dictated by the guitar strings and drums. The erratic poccolo flute adds a nice twist to the smooth, relaxing rhythm. At times I could almost swear that I could hear a piano, which is beautifully played, as is the saxaphone. The song builds up nicely; upon the opening notes, this sounds extremely sexy, like the kind of song that a couple would make love to (relecting the lyrics - "I need good loving"), however as the song progresses the song becomes faster paced and the instrumentals become layered and merge together really nicely. I would say that this is more jazz than soul, but there's a lovely mix of genres and sounds in there.
Michael's vocals in this song are very powerful and emotional, with very powerful lyrics. The lyrics are about how he yearns to be loved and touched ("Lord I need good, good loving.") In my opinion, from listening to the lyrics really carefully, he feels lonely and depraved, and he finds it hard to believe that he will ever be happy or find somebody - "Tell me a story that I can believe." The song's really refreshing and it gives the listener a really good taste of what's in store on the rest of the album. Overall, this is a brilliant opener to the album - it's one of those incredibly feel-good songs that makes me want to run around hugging everyone! I give this five out of five stars and it is definitely one of my favourite songs at the minute.
I'm Getting Ready is the second song on the album. This is probably the song that I have listened to the most so far on the album as I find it incredibly inspiring and relateable.. I absolutely adore it! John Mayer actually reccomended his fans to listen to this, resulting in it being one of Michael's most well known songs. This song brings a surge of emotions to me upon listening to it, I find not only the lyrics touching, but the devotion and love in Michael's voice is breath-taking. The smooth rythm with a slow and gentle guitar puts all the emphasis on the vocals, which are by far the best part of the song (although the instrumentals are gorgeous too!) The lyrics are amazing and actually quiet indepth when you think about it.
In my opinion, this song is all about equality amongst different races. He talks about getting ready to believe that things can change and holding on to that hope, and the lines "we'll be waving hands singing freely" and "no more looking down" backs up my evaluation of the song. The song is really relaxing and easy to listen to. I've fallen asleep to this a couple of times and it just makes me feel overwhelmingly happy and at ease. The song has such a laid back atmosphere to it and the guitar is playered flawlessly with a macarina being played in brief parts of the song. The backing singers add a nice touch to the song and I really like it. I give this song 5/5 stars overall as it's lovely to listen to; it's inspiring as well and I actually think that I'm addicted to it - it's better than drugs!
I'll Get Along is the third song on the album. This song has such a good vibe about it - really mellow and warm with such gorgeous, passionate vocals. I especially like the instrumentals in this song as it has a kind of fairytale opening; woodwinds and strings along with the flute. This is predominantly a soul song with a bit of blues and country mixed in there. The vocals are strong with lovely lyrics describing his regret in not keeping in touch with somebody, probably his girlfriend - "Oooh I didn't mean to leave, but am coming alone in a little while." The song is really relaxing and although I do really like it, I can't help but notice how similar instrumental wise it is to track one which is a bit of a downer, however I still give it four out of five stars as I adore the lyrics.
Rest is the forth song on the album. This has a gorgeous country twang to it with some new instrumentals thrown in there which work really well. This is a love song, with Michael speaking directly to his lover, telling her that he doesn't want to and won't let her go. He begs her to rest and not worry about him, while reassuring her that he won't let her go hungry or let her cry. I get the impression that he's saying all this stuff because he's done something bad, eg left her for a while or cheated on her, however his voice is beautiully genuine and you can really hear the love and emotion in his voice. Although I do like this song, it isn't particullary one of my favourites, I'm not sure why, it just isn't! I give the song four out of five stars.
Home Again is the fifth song on the album. This is a genuinely sad song, yet it is so beautiful and inspiring at the same time! This song is basically about how heartbroken he is due to a relationship break up. It is obvios from the lyrics that he feels completely awful and upset, however he decides to close his eyes, forget the past and look to the future and move on because as he says, "many times I've been told all this talk will make you old." He states that one day he will feel 'home' again, which to me basically means one day he knows he will feel himself again without the overpowering heartbreak and hurt. The song is really gentle due to the steady guitar, which mixed with the rich and powerul vocals makes the song sound absolutely flawless. An amazing song - five out of five.
Bones is the sixth track on the album. This is a gorgeous cross between soul, blues and jazz with a very vintage, seventies feel to it. The instrumentals are gorgeous and really funky (in a subtle way) and the percussion gives the song a really distinctive sound. The song in my opinion is one of those songs that is timelessness. It is beautiful and I especially love the backing singers, as well as Michael's deep and emotional vocals. The lyrics are about being obsessd with someone and not being able to live without them, with subtle references to suicide - "I guess I would leave this world alone, 'cause without you I'm just bones." I give the song four out of five songs - it's lovely but not really one of my favourites!
Always Waiting is the seventh song on the album. This song.. oh my God! This is probably the most emotional song on the album in my opinion and it is actually quite dark, however it's so full of love that it's never gonna be a really dark song. I'm a little undecided about the song meaning to be honeest, but in my opinion, it's about death. He speaks about his journey ending and his time tiring. He states that he's waiting for someone - My time is coming soon, so I'm waiting - I'll be waiting for you, my friend." Because of the sad tone, I kind of get the impression that this person's never going to come, hence why I said it's quite a dark song. Unlike the other songs on the album, the song lacks hope and goodness due to the lyrics and overall sad tone, but I still love it! 5/5.
I Won't Lie is the eighth song on the album. This is quite a bit different to the other songs on the album as the instrumentals and tone of the song alter throughout. Although the song is bearable and reasonably relaxing, I don't really like it and it is one of my least favourites. It just kind of sounds like a bit of a mess and the instrumentals, especially the brashy percussion ruin the gentle vocals.. I'm sure a lot of people will like this song, however it's not my kind of thing and I don't listen to it very much at all. The song feels a bit mismatched and not quite right if that makes sense, and it's not as relaxing/easy to listen to as the others. I give it three out of five stars because of the catchy chorus and the lyrics are pretty good, too.
Any Day Will Do Fine is the ninth song on the album. The song is about how he lusts after a woman, and is longing for her touch. From what I can tell from the lyrics, the woman won't go with him because she's worried what people will say. This is by no doubt a very sensual song and it's incredibly relaxing with a feel-good and fresh tone. The vocals in this song remind me a lot of Maverick Sabre, and the melodies and vocals go nicely together. The song is definitely a love song and it's quite a touching song because you can hear the lust in his voice. I love the brief arabian style instrumentals at the very end of the song and I give it four out of five stars. I would of given it more but I found it a little repetetive after around two minutes.
Worry Walks Beside Me is the tenth and last song. This is the perfect blend of soul and folk and it's a very emotional song. In my opinion this is about battling with feeling down - eg depression or heartbreak. Michael questions how it feels to actually believe in something good, and although he's tried to overcome his low mood, worry 'walks beside him everyday'. As someone who has suffered with depression in the past, I found this song very relateable and touching. Although the song's lyrics aren't particullary bright and happy, the song manages to come across as very inspiring due to the gorgeous, flawlessly played instrumentals. This is an absolutely perfect album outro and I give it five out of five stars.
Overall, this album is absolutely flawless and it is easily the best album of 2012. I can easily listen to the album all in one go and still want more! I very highly reccomend this album and give it five out of five stars.