Ready to pop the big time
Michael Kiwanuka Live - Photo by Tommy Deja

Having supported Adele on her recent US/European tour, it’s no surprise that Michael Kiwanuka’s gig at the Social, London, is a sold out affair. His debut EP ‘Tell Me A Tale’ is a week away from release, but his current state of popularity belies that of the venue’s capacity, and bolsters that of ‘Team Adele’’s influence within the industry.

The 23-year-old Londoner may have had something of a leg-up into the limelight, but it’s clear to see how he has captured and capitalised upon it. Taking to the stage amid rabid applause, Michael is courteous and gentle in his approach, opening with the heartfelt thrum of ‘I’ll Get Along’ and reducing the crowd to utter silence.

Kiwanuka’s sound is a sponge for the soulfulness of the Sixties. Lifting the structure, sentiment and sunny complexion of its luminaries (Al Green, Bill Withers, Terry Callier, et al.), he has repackaged its sincerity with modern invention and nuances. But what makes Michael stand out above your average revivalist is his craftsmanship towards the period and his perfervid vocal deliverance.

From the plaintive, bluegrass chords that carries ‘I’m Getting Ready’ and ‘Home’, to the lamenting ‘Worry Walks Beside Me’, his satin-like lilt leaves the audience still and enamoured until the final note. A skilled singer-songwriter with an ear for instrumentation, ‘Tell Me A Tale’’s flute-led introduction flourishes further with a brooding narrative.

For a man whose inception into music began with covering Radiohead songs, he stumbles into an encore of ‘No Surprises’ at the crowd’s behest, only to forget the chords. A cover of Bill Wither’s ‘I Don’t Know’, however, sees Kiwanuka wearing his influences on his sleeve and the crowd singing along.

A precocious talent with bright future ahead, Kiwanuka’s everyman soul is heartfelt and ready to pop the big time.

Words by Thomas A. Ward
Photo by Tommy Deja

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