In t/Vinyl, we've already said a lot, by way of introduction, about the idea of vinyl, what music is, its immense influence on history, on society, and on our lives in general. Now, it's time to get down to specifics. Talking about records and music is one of my passions. First, I'll introduce you to my favorite artist of the last 15 years. This is Michael Kiwanuka and his three albums.
It's a real joy to share with you these records. One serendipitously found its way into my collection, following the acquisition of the Hyundai Mercury Prize-winning 'Kiwanuka' album. I now possess all three of Kiwanuka's studio albums, yet I'm missing the live 'Get Loud!' album by Michael Kiwanuka. As I don't typically gather live recordings, it's unlikely to grace my collection.
The Mercury Prize, an esteemed British award since 1992, recognizes the year's best album in the UK and Ireland, serving as an alternative to the Brit Awards. Michael Kiwanuka, a modest talent from North London, has had every album nominated for this accolade, a significant feat indeed.
The Tale of Unbelief in Success
While delving into Michael Kiwanuka's story, I learned of his self-doubt and psychological struggles. It's hardly surprising, then, that upon his initial success and an invitation to record with Kanye West, he promptly withdrew, confessing:
Michael Kiwanuka's Musical Odyssey
A review of 'Love & Hate' I read stated, 'We could deconstruct each track of this album, revealing its richness upon listening.' After immersing in all three of his albums, I echo this sentiment. Yet, I'm no music critic, just a lover of fine music. Today, I urge you to discover his work.
Born in 1987, London-based Kiwanuka hails from Ugandan heritage, infusing his music with a rich tapestry of cultural influences.
Home Again (2012)
Michael Kiwanuka's 'Home Again' presents a concise journey of 10 tracks, elegantly wrapped in under 40 minutes. The opener, 'Tell Me A Tale', invites us into Kiwanuka's world of storytelling, a path he treads with earnest. This album isn't one for exhaustive dissection; it's to be felt. A particular favorite resonates with the description of Kiwanuka's voice as a 'bruised soul', a poignant metaphor capturing the weary yet cathartic essence of his music. His songs carry an honesty that cleanses and a melancholy that uplifts without wallowing in despair. Through life's trials, Kiwanuka doesn't lament; he sings of eventual smiles, not today but someday.
Home Again’ is a testament to surrounding oneself with talented musicians and rooting deeply in soul music's rich tradition. Even without being an aficionado, the echoes of Otis Redding and Bill Withers are unmistakable in this album. Following his Mercury Prize win for 'Kiwanuka', Kiwanuka mentioned in an Irish Times interview his fondness for creative company, which enlivens everything. This energy and inspiration are palpable throughout 'Home Again'.
Michael Kiwanuka „Love & Hate” (2016)
This album, a latest addition to my collection, I deem Kiwanuka's finest. Though it didn’t win the Mercury Prize, it's worthy in my view. The opener, 'Little Cold Heart,' is a nearly ten-minute marvel with an extended intro, a rarity in today's era of brief, instant-vocal tracks. It exudes a hippie vibe, reminiscent of a soundtrack piece for 'Forrest Gump'. Each song on this album carries a distinct edge, reminiscent of Pink Floyd's style, evident in its choral segments and guitar ranges. It’s a sharper, more progressive rock-infused work compared to 'Home Again'.
<iframe width="560" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/FngDSOuCNAA?si=nkXnyBn_58TM2EzR" title="YouTube video player" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture; web-share" allowfullscreen></iframe>
I’m a Black Man in a White World
I appreciate how in Kiwanuki's world, the themes of how he feels and the world he lives in so easily intersect and stem from each other. I love this coherence. Because if Michael is withdrawn, then why? Because 'I’m a Black Man in a White World'. And again, without complaining, without grumbling. Simply, he speaks of how a person living in a minority feels, because it has its consequences, even when living in multicultural London.
I am impressed by the consistency of his character, it is felt in the music, that the guy knows that with this album he still hasn't done anything award-worthy – he admitted himself: 'You are always happy to be on that list (of nominees – note PW), but there was a part of me that believed that I had recorded a quite decent album. Looking back, I am glad that I had to go further and push to delve into my craft and what I was trying to do and say'.
My favorite piece is 'Final Frame', maybe because it's the most rock, at least I think so. Such a ballad with extraordinary vocals, and a guitar, crisp, sharp, that enters the heart like a hot knife through butter!
Michael Kiwanuka „”Kiwanuka” (2019)
How it must have hurt, as he said in an interview with The Irish Times: 'I almost forgot that I am a musician'. Not only being from a minority, grappling with various fears all his life, but just when he won the award, when he was finally in the right place, when his career was about to skyrocket, the end came. After receiving the award, he was supposed to go on tour, played three concerts, fell ill, and when he recovered, he found that concert halls were empty and it was uncertain when they would fill again.
It didn't matter that the Mercury Prize boosted album sales by almost 5000% and streaming by 800%. For the Artist, for the creator, it was a blow.
Michael Kiwanuka took it very hard and still probably resents the British government for suggesting artists should retrain. In one interview, he says that what people don't understand about being creative is that these are things you have to do, otherwise you will pay with your mental health. If you are a creator, an artist, you just are one, you don't try to be.
Self-acceptance and maturity
Kiwanuka's double album is a mature manifesto of his self-acceptance. At the beginning of his career, he was suggested to adopt a stage pseudonym, but he refused. Quite impressive for someone living in fears and struggling with mental health. This really impresses me because it shows that one can "feel bad" and still function. Yesterday I read a quote from an NBA coach saying that not much will be accomplished in life if you only work when you feel good. It seems that Kiwanuka manages quite well. Or maybe it's about the music, working with creative people, jointly creating musical art, whether in the studio or on stage, that makes you want to keep going, even when it hurts.
Old Masters Never Die
The cover itself shows that Kiwanuka rules supremely in his musical kingdom. Learning his story, I really admire his path. A close connection with his heart, emphasis on self-acceptance, and honing his musical craft. It reminds me of the ethos of the old masters. As it turns out, in a TikTok-ized world, such things are possible and find an audience.
And this is also an album which, like the previous one, in my opinion, has no weak songs, and my favorite is 'Hero', with its almost Hendrix-like guitar. In his songs, Kiwanuka touches on freedom issues that governments tried to bend in various ways during the pandemic. During the long-awaited concerts, he vents his political beliefs and openly talks about his concerns related to them.
'Hero' is the result of a thought process about Fred Hampton, a 21-year-old leader of the Black Panthers, who was shot by the police in his home in 1969. Kiwanuka ponders what it takes to become a hero, whether one really has to die young?
<iframe width="560" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/fb_S4aWI6Og?si=w9O6CQ3EN09vgseJ" title="YouTube video player" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture; web-share" allowfullscreen></iframe>
Sepia x B/W
Listening to these three albums in sequence, I experience a state of spiritual upliftment, inspired by the sounds and lyrics, the choice of instruments, the producers (first Paul Butler, then the duo Danger Mouse (e.g. Gorillaz) and Inflo (e.g. Little Simz)), making me feel like I'm traversing a path that the artist himself has walked. Although in terms of color, it's quite monotonous here, as it's a journey from sepia through black and white back to sepia, if I may say so, Kiwanuka has placed countless sounds in these colors. These are albums to return to time and again, to discover anew; they cannot be listened to just once and for all.
I recommend them to all lovers of rock-soul mixtures. They are of the highest caliber; firstly, and secondly, they instill hope, without any grumbling!
Details of Michael Kiwanuka vinyl pressing and selling prices
Mastering and lacquer cutting: by Guy Dave (Grace Jones, Offspring, Alfa Mist) except for the song "Home Again", which was mastered at studio 24-96 Mastering by Robin Schmidt (Razorlight, Rosin Murphy, OMD)
Pressed at Czech GZ Media.
Released on vinyl, CD and 2xCD. Vinyl has been reissued three times so far: 2016, 2019 and 2020.
Highest price of the first release around EUR 30, average price
No Mastering Information - pressed at GZ Media.
Released on vinyl and CD and was reissued once in 2022 (vinyl black and transparent red)
Highest price of first release approx. €40, average price €32
Mastering and lacquer cutting - Matt Colton (Metropolis Mastering: Van Morrison, Oasis, Melanie C)
Pressed at Optimal Media, Germany
Release versions: CD, 2xLP Vinyl, picture disc, Flac files, Cassette, 2xLP+7" single sided version and 2xLP in yellow.
Highest first release price approx. EUR 30, average price EUR 30. Picture Disc: highest EUR 60, average EUR 34, 2xLP+7" releases highest EUR 104, average EUR 70, Yellow: highest EUR 84, average EUR 40.