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Michael Kiwanuka is a British musician of Ugandan heritage who writes songs combining soul and rootsy folk influences and sings them with a deep, husky soulful voice. The Home Again Songfacts says that after signing with Communion Records, Kiwanuka recorded his debut EP, Tell Me A Tale, with the help of Paul Butler from The Bees, who took the Muswell Hill, London native to his Isle of Wight studio to record the songs. The record came to the attention of Adele who invited Kiwanuka to support her on the singing star’s 2011 European tour. The BBC announced on January 6, 2012 that Kiwanuka had won their Sound of 2012 poll, an annual survey of music critics and industry figures to find the most promising new music talent.
With Michael Kiwanuka, it’s all about the voice. A voice that he describes as “hitting straight through to the core” with direct, emotional songs about love, yearning, comfort and belonging. It’s a voice that built him a following via MySpace and small London gigs, and led Paul Butler from The Bees to invite him to the band’s Isle of Wight studio to lay down these introductory tracks. Which makes it all the more strange, really, that what Kiwanuka originally set out to be was a session guitarist who maybe wrote the odd song for other people.
Now 23, growing up in North London Michael struggled at times to see where he fitted in. An avid England and Spurs fan, he found it hard to imagine a day when a name like Kiwanuka could sit comfortably on the back of a football shirt here. Nonetheless, when his parents took him and his brother back to the Uganda to visit family, he and his brother were immediately recognised as English tourists. Like most of his schoolmates, he liked bands like Nirvana and Blur, but it was only when he discovered that Jimi Hendrix was black that he was able to imagine himself picking up a guitar.
In his teens, two other icons helped him find his voice. A friend gave him a Bob Dylan box set, and Michael was bowled over by the power of a well-crafted song, delivered with just urgent vocals and an acoustic guitar. Later, he was playing the free CD that came with a music magazine and heard an out-take of ‘Sitting on the Dock of the Bay’ in which Otis Redding was talking to the studio engineer. It made the soul icon seem more human, more accessible, and though there were later to be other influences from Bill Withers and Terry Callier to John Martyn and Laura Marling, it was Dylan and Redding who laid the foundations for Michael’s own rootsy, folk-inflected modern soul.
Written and performed by Michael Kiwanuka, produced by Paul Butler and featuring an assortment of Isle of Wight musicians as well as of course Michael on acoustic guitar, Tell Me A Tale, I Need Your Company and Worry Walks Beside Me are timeless songs that could only have come from Britain in 2011. Real, raw and achingly beautiful, they are just a taste of what is to come.
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