MICHAEL KIWANUKA

WOR­RIED ABOUT THE STATE OF THE MOD­ERN WORLD? THE NORTH LON­DON SOUL MAN HAS THE PERFECT SUC­COUR: BURG­ERS.

Q (UK) - - Incoming - SYLVIA PAT­TER­SON

“Hav­ing a burger tripped my mind, like ther­apy. I could face the world again.”

Ilove burg­ers, it’s com­fort,” beams Q Awards Best Solo Artist nom­i­nee Michael Kiwanuka, scan­ning the com­pre­hen­sive burger menu at East Lon­don’s Meat Mis­sion. “Hmm, classic cheese­burger and fries… the best!” The 29- year-old North Lon­doner also loves “to chat”, a man brim­ful of bon­homie, even as he de­scribes the writer’s block and de­pres­sion which scup­pered his 2013, un­able to fol­low-up 2012’ s sub­lime, retro-soul de­but Home Again. “Cre­atively stuck,” he spent months sleep­ing in, scrapped a whole al­bum, stopped writ­ing and es­caped to the pub. A jug of tap wa­ter ar­rives. “Amazing,” he lev­i­tates, “good times, man!” He can say this now, hav­ing sur­vived the bad times in to­day’s hits-de­mand­ing in­dus­try. “If you don’t sell, you’ll be dropped,” he shud­ders. “Bru­tal.” In 2012 he’d been un­stop­pable, Bri­tish soul’s most richly emo­tive new voice. By 2013 he was un­rav­el­ling, even as Kanye West called him to Hawaii for con­tri­bu­tions to Yeezus. Kiwanuka re­mained stuck, re­turn­ing home af­ter five days, back to bed and the pub. It took his own col­lab­o­ra­tions in 2014/15, with pro­duc­ers In­flo and Danger Mouse, to un­stick him. Burg­ers also worked their magic. “We spent a lot of time in here,” he smiles, sur­vey­ing the dark, neon-lit bean­ery. “Hav­ing a burger tripped my mind, like ther­apy. When I was feel­ing scared, if I had a burger I could face the world again.” This year, his sec­ond al­bum Love & Hate fi­nally emerged. Go­ing to Num­ber 1, and bag­ging a Mer­cury nom­i­na­tion, it’s a dra­mat­i­cally mov­ing soul-blues opus, the sin­gle Black Man In A White World both a per­sonal lament to his life­long search for iden­tity as the son of Ugan­dan im­mi­grants who grew up in white, mid­dle-class Muswell Hill and a ru­mi­na­tion on global in­equal­ity. “What’s hap­pen­ing ev­ery day seeps into your psy­che,” he says. “Peo­ple in their 20s now are like, ‘What’s hap­pen­ing?’ It’s good, it’s what’s goin’ on, man! Like the ’ 60s again.” His burger ar­rives – “amazing!” – as he con­tem­plates di­vi­sive hu­man na­ture. “We sep­a­rate our­selves from each other by try­ing to find peo­ple who are like us,” he de­cides, thought­fully. “Being dif­fer­ent, I no­ticed it, grow­ing up. You mix with the same peo­ple, the same hair­cuts. We just buy a lit­tle flat, if we’re lucky, and shut the door. To me that’s what Brexit is. We know who we are, these peo­ple can sort them­selves out. Sad, isn’t it?” He rel­ishes his burger while mov­ing on to Amer­ica’s trou­bles; Trump, police shoot­ings, the Black Lives Mat­ter move­ment. “I feel con­fu­sion,” he muses. “It’s un­be­liev­ably back­wards. The guns, I know it’s in their his­tory but so was slav­ery, you know? It doesn’t mean you can’t get rid of it.” The States were hos­tile to Black Man In A White World – Kiwanuka was ad­vised by his la­bel to choose a dif­fer­ent sin­gle. “Some sta­tions blocked it,” he shrugs. “I find Amer­ica strange and dif­fi­cult, they seem trapped.” He wor­ries also for his Bri­tish con­tem­po­raries, cit­ing Lon­don’s high rents, un­af­ford­able homes and univer­sity fees debt. “Young peo­ple can’t start their lives,” he laments, “no won­der they’re dis­il­lu­sioned and just go off to uni and get pissed!” Kiwanuka is, though, op­ti­mistic about mu­sic and cre­ativ­ity: “At the Mer­cury’s I came away ex­cited about Bri­tish mu­sic.” He’s buoy­ant for an­other rea­son, too: four years ago, he’d never been in love, this Septem­ber he mar­ried Char­lotte, a song­writer. “The con­cept of com­ing back home has changed com­pletely,” he grins. “Be­fore I could tour all year long. Now, I get home and we’re like a lit­tle team, the TV shows we watch, mak­ing tea, a walk on the heath, ba­sic lit­tle things.” Life in 2016 for the per­son­able soul man is good, then. “But I’ve al­ways had a great time, even when I was down.” He sur­veys his empty tray. “I love food, man!” he cack­les. “A good meal and a chat, you re­lax and re­boot. I’m just up for being happy, life’s too short…” He wan­ders off back to his wife, and his new life, buoyed by the burger, ready to face again our ever-con­fus­ing world.

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