A man, a guitar, a good song. For a long time, this was pop music’s essential mix, but in recent times it has been under threat from Auto-Tune effects and heavy beats. Michael Kiwanuka is fighting back.
The 24-year-old from north London, son of parents who escaped Idi Amin’s Uganda, writes folk-like songs in the tradition of Van Morrison and Bill Withers: Great tunes wrapped up in warm 1960s and ’70s garb, composed only of his soulful voice and acoustic guitar.
On his first TV music show appearance, the co-billed Björk and Anthony Kiedis were left speechless, while his debut album is currently causing a worldwide wave of goosebumps.
The Red Bulletin: Are you nostalgic?
Kiwanuka: No, but old music just had class. You can barely find that level of finesse and technical skill in pop today. I learn a lot from recordings from back then.
The way someone like Sam Cooke or Marvin Gaye used his voice. They had a language of their own, their own way of phrasing. Their vocals are usually slightly behind the beat, which gives the song a certain swing.
Is a good song enough to be successful now?
Absolutely. The current success of Adele, whom I toured with last year, proves that. Boy bands might be able to palm anything off on their hysterical fans, but that’s got nothing to do with music. A good song is just timeless.
What makes a good song a good song?
Emotion, abandon, a good melody, good lyrics. If I knew exactly, I’d probably be a millionaire by now.
Check out the May 2012 issue of Red Bulletin magazine (on newsstands April 10) for more articles. To read the magazine on your iPad, download the Red Bulletin iPad app.