Why Michael Kiwanuka Leads The Charge of Our Neo Soul Renaissance
  • TUESDAY, MARCH 29, 2016

  • Posted by: Don Saas



At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, I've been eagerly awaiting new tunes from Michael Kiwanuka for four years now. He's one of those artists where you immediately remember the first time you heard them. My editor at the time assigned me an introduction piece on the rising British blues/soul/neo-folk songwriter, and it was love at first sight. I was writing about his Dan Auerbach produced track, "Lasan," from his debut album, Home Again (which was one of the first albums I bought when I bought a vinyl turntable), and it immediately struck me the sincere roots he had in the best of Van Morrison, Otis Redding, Smokey Robinson, and a host of other icons of the soul era.

But Kiwanuka wasn't simply repurposing these sounds in a cheap, unimaginative way that has defined some other, more commercially recognizable acts in our current retro wave. He was using them to explore his roots as a member of an immigrant family living in the UK. He wasn't just mimicking the sounds of the 60s and 70s. He was capturing its soul with a modern urgency. And the lush production of tracks like "Tell Me A Tale" has made it a go-to record any time I have friends over and I want to set the mood for a gorgeous evening.

Minus two tracks in 2014, and touring, Kiwanuka had disappeared off the face of the earth since 2012, and I couldn't be happier to know that he's finally back. He's got a new record, Love & Hate, coming out in May, and he's shared the album's lead single, "Black Man In A White World." If Kiwanuka found himself exploring the rich soul vocals of Otis Redding and the swirling strings and baroque instrumentation of Van Morrison on his first album, this record is painting itself as more of the thudding Afrocentric soul of Bill Withers meets the political energy of Gil Scott-Heron with some world music percussion thrown in for good measure.

All of our readers have been warned in advance; I'm going to be singing the praises of Kiwanuka non-stop til the record's out (and probably for a while after it's out). Sometimes I can maybe be a little too free with my praise here at Baeble (we like a lot of music), but Kiwanuka is genuinely one of those once-in-a-lifetime talents. I got to see him at Bonnaroo in 2012. He was the first set I caught on Friday that year, and I was front row during the entire set. The only set that entire weekend that was as good as Kiwanuka was Bon Iver. It was intimate and emotional and full of haunting power.

May 27th can't get here soon enough.



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