A black man in a white world

By Sergio Ariza

Michael Kiwanuka is a Brit who grew up listening to Oasis, Blur, and the rest of the shining stars of Britpop. But not much of it shows in his music, as he himself says in one of his songs, he is “a black man in a white world”, and when he started recording, the influences that we could see were from the likes of Curtis Mayfield, Bill Withers or Marvin Gaye. After his first record in which we could already intuit his talent, ‘Love & Hateis a full confirmation of Kiwanuka. It’s a ‘revivalist’ record, yet powerful, with a production calibre reminiscent of the classics from the black music of the 70s, in which the arrangement of chords and background vocals, surround his powerful voice, then putting the icing on the cake with his guitar in great moments like ‘Cold Little Heart’ or the title song.

The record starts off with its best song, ‘Cold little Heart
. To explain this marvelous song and its more than 10 minute length, where the lead voice doesn’t come in until almost halfway, is quite complicated, but nothing else occurs to me other than imagining Pink Floyd (with Al Green singing) playing a special version of ‘While my guitar gently weepsby the Beatles produced by Isaac Hayes. An Exaggeration? I don’t think so. Kiwanuka affirms his creds as a talented guitarist with that intro, along the lines of David Gilmour, with his Fender Stratocaster.

But it’s not the only time he has made an impression on the  6-string. Whereas his voice is still the driving force, his development with the guitar is evident on pieces like ‘Falling
, with his blues touch, ‘Rule the World’, in which he sprinkles with various effects, or the title song which has the best solo in the album, this time on his Gibson Les Paul (it seems clear that Kiwanuka is also a classic when it comes to choosing a guitar). In a 2016 where guitar solos seem forgotten, it’s a real treat to see this talented young man release a record like this one.  

Of course ‘Love & Hate
goes far beyond Kiwanuka’s technical abilities as a guitarist. It serves as a summary of the great moments in black music, from the gospel of ‘Black Man in a White Worldto the classic soul of ‘The Final Frame, the last song on the record, and on which his Stratocaster is the star once again. All this without throwing shade on other whiter influences mentioned such as Pink Floyd, or the melancholy acoustics of Nick Drake or a folkier Van Morrison.

(All images: ©CordonPress)