Michael Kiwanuka: Kiwanuka review – retro soul with an Afrocentric air


“Kiwanuka” is the surname of Ugandan origin that teachers struggled to pronounce when Michael Kiwanuka was at school in London, the name the music industry counselled against. So an element of defiance commingles with a new sense of self-acceptance on this British troubadour’s expansive third album title. The songs follow suit. A sizable US audience now figures in Kiwanuka’s reckonings, thanks to the success of Cold Little Heart – from his second album – repurposed as the theme tune to HBO’s Big Little Lies. Kiwanuka is equal to the challenge, combining Kiwanuka’s Stateside-facing retro soul with broader, occasionally more Afrocentric influences.

Best of all is this album’s borderline psychedelic shimmer – the mostly analogue atmospheres Kiwanuka and producers Danger Mouse and Inflo conjure up here are just as enticing as the more conventional songs, which merge Motown fun and more languorous introspection. Skip straight to Piano Joint (Intro) for a taste of this album’s more free-form grooves, or to Hard to Say Goodbye for 60s orchestral cinematics; listen as Hero, a side-on tribute to the civil rights movement, builds from a husky ballad to a rattling period piece faintly redolent of Jimi Hendrix. The only downside is that Kiwanuka could have been even braver.

Watch the video for Michael Kiwanuka’s Hero.


Kitty Empire

The GuardianTramp

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