Ki­wanuka sings about be­ing a ‘Black Man in a White World’

The Hamilton Spectator - - A&E - SIAN WAT­SON

Bri­tish record­ing artist Michael Ki­wanuka has con­nec­tions in high places.

At 24, with­out a hit record to his name, Ki­wanuka was in­vited to tour with Adele. He also worked on mu­sic with Kanye West, and al­though the col­lab­o­ra­tion didn’t see the light of day, Ki­wanuka says the ex­pe­ri­ence helped shape his sopho­more al­bum, “Love & Hate.” It hit the top spot of the U.K. Of­fi­cial Charts this month.

“I was lucky enough to be in the same stu­dio with Kanye West for a lit­tle bit,” he said, re­call­ing be­ing in­vited to Hawaii while West was record­ing “Yeezus” in 2013.

“It was a re­ally good learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence and a pretty over­whelm­ing one, I re­mem­bered his meth­ods and how cre­ative he was. So, it was good.” As for Adele, be­ing on the road with her in­spired his tour ethic, pow­er­ing him to want to “sing well ev­ery night” — like her. And when Ki­wanuka re­cently re­turned with his sin­gle “Black Man in a White World,” the mul­ti­plat­inum diva tweeted “so glad he’s back” and posted the video.

With soft, soul­ful tones, Ki­wanuka is reg­u­larly com­pared to artists in­clud­ing Bill Withers, Otis Red­ding, Marvin Gaye, Terry Cal­lier and Randy New­man.

“Love & Hate” fol­lows the suc­cess of Ki­wanuka’s 2012 de­but al­bum, “Home Again,” which reached No. 4 in the U.K. and helped him win the pres­ti­gious “BBC Sound of ...” mu­sic poll in 2012 — an hon­our also be­stowed on Adele, Sam Smith, 50 Cent and El­lie Gould­ing.

In the U.S., Ki­wanuka has earned crit­i­cal ac­claim but hasn’t achieved chart suc­cess. Still, peo­ple are pay­ing at­ten­tion. Di­rec­tor Baz Luhrmann uses Ki­wanuka’s “Black Man in a White World” in his up­com­ing Net­flix se­ries, “The Get Down.”

Remixed by Nas, Ki­wanuka de­scribes the up­dated ver­sion as a col­lab­o­ra­tion, say­ing with a wry smile that track has been “re­vamped” for the se­ries.

Start­ing a cap­pella with a clap­ping pulse, “Black Man” be­gins stripped back be­fore build­ing up to a full orches­tra and cho­rus re­peat­edly singing the song’s ti­tle.

With lyrics such as “I’ve been low, I’ve been high, I’ve been told all my life I’ve got noth­ing left to pray, I’ve got noth­ing left to say,” the song could be viewed as a po­lit­i­cal tune, but Ki­wanuka says he wrote it about “what was hap­pen­ing in my own head.”

Its sen­ti­ment, how­ever, has res­onated wider than just the per­sonal.

“I think it’s im­por­tant to have art and mu­sic that con­nects to the times and I didn’t do that on pur­pose but it’s nice that it is rel­e­vant,” he said.


Bri­tish singer Michael Ki­wanuka per­forms at the Call­ing fes­ti­val, in Lon­don.

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