interview | michael kiwanuka

We chat with soul musician and songwriter Michael Kiwanuka, the man behind the huge hit Black Man In A White World.

How did you first get into music and when did you know you wanted to be a musician?

I first got into music when I was in the first year of secondary school. There were a lot of bands in school, there were a lot of people who played guitar and put bands together and I’d see these bands walking around school or playing in school assemblies. Back then when people used to buy actual CDs we’d buy them and pass them around to each other if it was an album that you wanted your mates to check out so I was listening to loads and that’s probably what got me into music. But I was probably around 14 when I decided I wanted to be a musician, when I wanted it to be my job. I was playing at school, we had these performances for GCSE and I remember doing one and it was a solo performance and I loved it! I did a performance of ‘Tears In Heaven’ by Eric Clapton because it had a complicated guitar part so I played it because I wanted to get good marks and ended up singing as well.

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Your second album, ‘Love & Hate’ is just about to drop, tell us about the recording process and what we can expect?

The recording process for this one was a long one. It was quite different to the first because with the first album I wrote al the songs before we went to the studio – I’d write songs at home and then take them to the studio completed and then we’d arrange the song and see if it sounded good. But with this album, a lot of the time I’d go to the studio with nothing and I’d start the song in the studio so it was a very different approach – lyrics were done in the studio, the way I came up with melodies was different, the way I came up with everything was completely different. The process was quite backwards for me but it helped get me out of a rut and because of this approach it’s a bit more of an adventurous album.

You have been compared to some absolute greats and even heard rumours of a Mercury nomination, do you feel any pressure around this, do this help keep you focused and motivated?

My first album was nominated for a Mercury which was incredibly flattering. I really enjoy the Mercuries because they concentrate on the music as opposed to sales and that’s something I definitely relate to. I don’t feel pressure about things like Mercury nominations or being compared to great names because it doesn’t mean that I want to be as great as them or think that I’m as great as them but it does keep me focussed. I don’t think music’s about trying to win an award but at the same time if you’re getting those nods then it’s a good reflection that you’ve worked hard. Being a musician is such a privileged thing to do so it’s nice to try and do it as best I can and milestones like the Mercuries are a good way to keep trying to do your best.

What else have you got going on this year?

Festivals! We release the album on 15th July and then it’s festivals and touring in October – we’re playing Shepherd’s Bush Empire in October which I’m very much looking forward to, it’s a beautiful venue. I’ve just played Glastonbury and got Latitude as well as British Summer Time at Hyde Park where we’re supporting Carole King which I’m excited about because I’m a huge Carole King fan. It’s a busy year.

What music are you listening to  at the moment?

‘Love & Hate’ is out 15th July 2016 via Polydor