When London-born Michael Kiwanuka entered the music industry – having supported Adele on her 2011 tour and beating Frank Ocean to be named BBC Sound of 2012 – he became the protagonist in the stories we hear about the commercially-driven, behind the curtain aspects of that world which you hope are false. He was told to change his name (‘Why don’t you adopt a mononymous persona?” suggested one A&R figure) which would hinder Kiwanuka’s already struggling self-confidence in the early stage of his career as a recording artist.
Working once again with the production team of Danger Mouse and Inflo, Kiwanuka is a celestial universe populated with sophisticated David Axelrod-inspired arrangements featuring elegant strings and spiky guitar parts (see: Hero). There are moments (Living In Denial) where distorted effects on vocal harmonies conjure the late Richard Swift.
At fifty-one minutes, Kiwanuka captivates the listener by diversifying song structures with minute-long intros and interludes as well as expansive compositions that take on several forms, as showcased in Hard To Say Goodbye.
Lyrically, the singer is focused on reclaiming his identity; “I won’t change my name / No matter what they call me,” he sings defiantly on Hero.
On that track, Kiwanuka also remembers Fred Hampton, a Black Panther member murdered in 1969. Therefore, firmly rooting this record as one that is a celebration of history, both personal and collective.
Words: Zara Hedderman
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