Kiwanuka’s journey taps the music in his soul
Kiwanuka’s style – as evidenced on his debut album, Home Again – draws comparisons with soul greats such as Bill Withers and even Marvin Gaye. Yet Kiwanuka, raised in London by Ugandan parents, came to the music the long way around. ‘‘I didn’t grow up hearing records at home so it was all new to me when I started discovering older stuff,’’ he says. ‘‘You just pick the music you love and try to do that in your own way. Soul music and folk music too, I just loved that feeling I heard and that felt like a springboard to start my own music. The more you write and the more you play, the more you learn and discover.’’ While he accepts his music draws comparisons with artists of previous eras, Kiwanuka says there was never any intention to make retro music. ‘‘I didn’t start writing songs to get a record deal. I wrote songs to express myself,’’ he says. Kiwanuka might not have had classic records scattered around at home in his teenage years but there was a guitar. As with so many other teenagers, he got into rock music through Nirvana and Radiohead but was blown away when he heard Otis Redding sing. His first foray into professional music was as a guitar player, finding work as a session musician for urban acts such as Bashy and Chipmunk. That taught him something: that the music he wanted to play was somewhere else. He found a live acoustic music scene in London and was eventually picked up by Communion Records, the label formed by Ben Lovett of Mumford & Sons. They connected him with producer Paul Butler, whose taste for vintage equipment and sounds suited the songs Kiwanuka was writing. With so much technology to help, Kiwanuka is puzzled that the speed of releasing music has slowed down, not accelerated. If The Beatles could release two albums in a year, why do artists release an album every three years now? ‘‘You write a song you love, you might start playing it on the road,’’ he says. ‘‘You get back home to the studio and the song might be three or four months old. You record it but can’t release it for another year because you have to wait for the right time to release an album, which is all about marketing and business. That’s frustrating.’’ Kiwanuka plans to release an EP this year.
Michael Kiwanuka plays the Byron Bay Bluesfest, at Tyagarah Tea Tree Farm, on March 29-30 and Heavenly Sounds, at St John’s Cathedral, Brisbane, on April 2.