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