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Michael Kiwanuka - Kiwanuka (Album Review)

Wednesday, 06 November 2019 Written by Graeme Marsh

Michael Kiwanuka has always struggled with an identity crisis, whether that stems from growing up in London as the son of Ugandan parents or creative impostor syndrome. His single Black Man in a White World, from 2016’s excellent ‘Love & Hate’ album, notably distilled some of his feelings of isolation. On his new LP ‘Kiwanuka’ the same theme is tapped into regularly. This time, though, the angle’s different.

Opener You Ain’t The Problem is clearly a statement of reaffirmation—he takes a previously confused individual and grabs them by the scruff of the neck before hammering home that it isn’t them that’s the issue, it’s the world they live in. It’s a powerful message to anyone who has found themselves in a similar position.

Opting to go down the self-titled route three albums in is a decision Kiwanuka might have reached for a number of reasons but here it’s crystal clear—he’s now comfortable with himself, where he’s from and who he’s become.

This realisation sits at the core of ‘Kiwanuka’ as an almost unrelenting sense of confidence sweeps through the collection. There are several nods to racial discrimination, most notably on the short Another Human Being, where equality is tackled with a gunshot and a narrative fit to make the skin crawl. “And for the first time the community was confronted with negroes in places where they had never been,” a warped voiceover intones.

Closer Light, meanwhile, leans heavily on the main theme, with its declarations of “it don’t bother me” and “shine your light on me” defiantly becoming prouder as Kiwanuka insists “all of my fears are gone”. In fact, it’s only penultimate track Solid Ground that wavers. “How does it feel to be on your own?” he asks, adding: “I don’t belong.”

Kiwanuka is seemingly offering up some final resistance to his determination, made harrowingly tangible by his referring to the cover of night being a safe place where he can hide. The brilliant track’s organ and piano mix, meanwhile, recall the pop grandeur of Talk Talk.

Elsewhere, a phalanx of top quality cuts dominates the album. The excellent double-hit of Rolling, where laughter and distorted guitars bleed into the slower, sorrowful I’ve Been Dazed is compelling, and the latter’s message of “time is a healer” becomes another recurring theme.

Piano Joint (This Kind of Love) Intro and Main are both gorgeous in their simplicity and power, while the superb Final Days benefits from a fully-charged piano chord sequence that tingles. Its predecessor, Hero, is another belter, this time revolving around riveting guitar work and distorted vocals for a fuzzy, psychedelic feel.

Gil Scott-Heron, Fela Kuti and Bobby Womack are heroes of Kiwanuka’s, and you can hear the influence of all three on ‘Kiwanuka’. As a result, we have a fantastic album on our hands. His first two releases were Mercury nominated—in all honesty, it’s probably this one that deserves the accolade the most.

Michael Kiwanuka Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Mon March 02 2020 - SOUTHAMPTON O2 Guildhall Southampton
Tue March 03 2020 - BOURNEMOUTH O2 Academy Bournemouth
Thu March 05 2020 - LONDON O2 Academy Brixton
Fri March 06 2020 - BIRMINGHAM O2 Academy Birmingham
Sat March 07 2020 - MANCHESTER O2 Apollo
Mon March 09 2020 - CAMBRIDGE Cambridge Corn Exchange
Tue March 10 2020 - LEICESTER De Montfort Hall
Thu March 12 2020 - LEEDS O2 Academy Leeds
Fri March 13 2020 - NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE O2 Academy Newcastle
Sat March 14 2020 - GLASGOW Barrowland
Fri November 27 2020 - LONDON Alexandra Palace

Click here to compare & buy Michael Kiwanuka Tickets at Stereoboard.com.

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