KUMD Album Review: Kiwanuka

Feb 7, 2020

Credit Kiwanuka

Michael Kiwanuka - Kiwanuka

The album Kiwanuka is a triumphant return for the British singer/songwriter of the same name, first release since 2016’s, Love and Hate.

In comparison to his other two albums, this 2019 release feels the most virtuosic, the most full-fledged, the most concise. Compared to the rest of his impressive catalog, this album sounds like a musical victory lap. His band is at their most precise, and he presents a laid back vocal delivery with the confidence of an expert. The fluidity and cohesion of Michael Kiwanuka and his backing band is reminiscent of the teamwork between Bob Marley and the Wailers

Kiwanuka wears his musical influences on his sleeve from the beginning of the album. The song “You Ain’t the Problem'' starts with the sounds of a nightclub in motion, as people talk and laugh in the background, a conga is heard keeping beat with a quick electric guitar, reminiscent of Caribbean dancehalls. This beat is overtaken by stinging overdriven guitar chords, as the congas are switched for a drumkit and chorus of back-up singers. His band backs off just enough for Kiwanuka to shine, always ready to jump in with a vocal ad-lib, drum fill or guitar riff. Kiwanuka proves himself to be adept at curating and mixing various musical styles. The albums influences draw from everything from funk, to ‘70s hard rock, to hard bop era jazz. The rhythm section starts with the basic foundation, (electric guitar, bass, drum kit, organ) and draws from the Motown era for a few additions (horns, strings, chorus singers, tambourine).

From the tried-and-true makeup of a soul band, to the crisp production of more modern acts, the artist has proven his ability to orchestrate a fine piece of work.

In fact, due to the impeccable production of the album, it was no surprise to learn that Kiwanuka started his career as a session guitarist. The artist takes the perfectionist nature of a session musician to the next level on this album, delivering a soundscape that is frankly breathtaking. It is one of those albums where, with eyes closed, one can almost hear where the instruments are placed in the studio. One can almost picture the bassist thumping along in front, the guitarist strumming to their right, and the drummer and tambourine attacking from both sides in perfect stereo. Through the well orchestrated compositions, Michael is able to completely immerse the listener into his world

And what a world to be immersed in. The album features 14 tracks, running a total of 51 minutes. It begins energetically, with brash and confident instrumentation and tempo. After it has the listener’s attention, it flows smoothly between moods, from the sultry strings and laid back drums of “Piano Joint”, to the funky drum and bass partnership of "Living in Denial", almost every track forces one to bob their head along to the beat.

This funky, soulful, energetic album is well worth a listen.

Try this album if you like: Bill Withers, Ali Farka Toure, Isaac Hayes, Sharon Jones, Alabama Shakes, Menahan Street Band