Michael Kiwanuka’s debut is a music writer’s dream come true. Enabling critics a chance to espouse their own love for the classic influences he draws from, the album has been cited for his Nick Drake-like fingerpicking, his soulful Otis Redding vocals and for using a similar approach to production as Marvin Gaye.
The singer, who was born to Ugandan parents in England, says a lot of the time the critics are correct, but there are a few notable exceptions.
“Most of the time it’s kind of like, ‘You got me!’ but then there’s a couple ones that come up once in a while that you’re like ‘Yeah, I haven’t ever heard a record by Randy Newman, apart from watching ‘Toy Story,'” he says.
But what makes Kiwanuka unique is the way that he combines these folk, soul and rock influences to form his own sound. And what is most heartening is that Kiwanuka seems especially interested in spreading an optimistic message through songs like “Tell Me a Tale,” and “I’m Getting Ready,” where he repeats the phrase “I’m getting ready to believe” with an increasing hopefulness.
“For me it’s everything,” says the singer about positivity. “You don’t relate music to just really horrible periods, you relate it to a time where it gets you through things … and that’s why I really enjoy listening to music from people like Marvin Gaye and Bill Withers… Those are the kind of songs I love listening to. And those are the songs I like to write.”
Grandma take me ‘Home Again’
One of Kiwanuka’s influen-ces that critics aren’t exactly picking up on? Nirvana!
“My music doesn’t really come out like that, but I really appreciate and love it,” he says of Cobain and company.
So could Kiwanuka play all of the songs on “Nevermind” if he had to?
“Yeah,” he says with conviction. “There’s another album, ‘From the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah,’ and it’s a live album. I love that! That was actually the first album I got. … It was cool because it was the best songs … so I got that and then bought the other albums.”
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