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Interview: Michael Kiwanuka

| June 28, 2012 | 0 Comments

Michael Kiwanuka‘s heart remains unharmed by some pretty little thing. If the soulful British singer ever experienced the devastating blow of rejection, or worse, indifference at the neatly manicured hands of a foxy coed, his full-length debut, Home Again (Polydor), might sound like a bloody roadmap of a battered ego.

Appearing: 8/3 at Lollapalooza in Grant Park, Chicago.

Instead, the 25-year-old grapples with bigger themes, the kind of philosophical discussions among men wasting an afternoon holed up in a bar purposefully ignoring or oblivious to the come-hither looks of thirsty girls. That’s where we find Kiwanuka on a Monday in June – sitting in a London pub with his friend Johnny taking full advantage of the national holiday brought on by Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee. He admits to failing as a loyal subject and spectator to the monarch’s highly publicized and hard-to-miss celebration, but appreciates the days off. The clinking glasses heard in the background over the phone give that much away.

Not that he needs a respite from the classic 9-to-5 work structure. Since winning the BBC’s prestigious “Sound Of 2012” award earlier this year, Kiwanuka’s chances of feeling the aerodynamic curve of an office chair pressed against his spine fade into the distance. The honor serves as a year-long coming out party for one lucky songsmith, and so far the soft-spoken young man is living up to it.

“It’s a positive thing for me. I’m traveling a lot more, so I’ve seen much more of the world. People pay and come to gigs . . . so in that way things have changed, which is nice. For me, there’s no downside actually,” Kiwanuka determines.

Only time will tell if he’ll make it to the heights of past recipients like Adele, but he already sweated it out at Bonnaroo and is poised to turn a few heads at Lollapalooza. Adele’s camp handpicked him to open up for the one-woman Grammy factory on tour, which played out like a 101 class in how to handle the pressures of fame.

“[She] and her team are very down-to-earth. They’re professional, but they don’t flaunt it. She’s very calm. And she just kind of sings songs and gets under it and does it passionately with feeling and honesty. So, I figure that’s what you need to be a musician and a singer. And if you want to get successful, you just have to work hard at what you’re doing rather than act cool and be like a diva,” he explains.

But, back to the deep thoughts that give heft to Kiwanuka’s soothing Bill Withers vocals refracted through the prism of Van Morrison’s loose, ready-to-veer-off-course melodies. Put on Home Again, and your physical space will transform like that awful movie-theater Coca-Cola commercial that signals the end of the coming attractions and the start of the feature, just without the choking vines and man-eating fauna. Press play and the carpet will start to look shaggier; the walls will take on a wood-paneled sheen.

— Janine Schaults

For the full feature, click on the issue cover or grab a copy of Illinois Entertainer, available free throughout Chicagoland.

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Category: Featured, Features, Monthly

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