A ‘store’ treat before he heads home again

For anyone who thought that only manufactured pop acts were at the mercy of the fickle whim of the public’s grace, a closer look at the fates of recent singer-songwriters might make you think again. These troubadours, one-man (or woman) bands with their hearts on their workman-like sleeves, are as prone to the comings and goings of fame as any other genre. For every successful David Gray, there’s an under-achieving Stephen Fretwell. But the relatively low cost for the record label, coupled with the potentially high profit should they succeed, means they won’t be disappearing anytime soon.

And so to 24-year-old Michael Kiwanuka, London-born to Ugandan parents. His decision to sign to the UK’s most successful record label of the last generation, Polydor Records, was a bold move − for discerning artists who hold their creative autonomy in high regard, joining a major label can be akin to a deal with the devil. But the omens so far are good, and it’s looking like a winning combination that’s set to continue through 2013 following an impressive 2012.

After winning the much-vaunted BBC Sound Poll at the beginning of 2012, Kiwanuka’s debut album, Home Again, was propelled to the top 30 in ten countries (including #4 in the UK and #23 in Denmark). A more recent nomination for the Mercury Prize added to an ever-growing portfolio of critical praise, and comparisons to such titans of the genre as Bob Dylan, Bill Withers and Otis Redding followed. A good year for sure, but also not entirely surprising for someone who is in fact a someone of substantial talent.

A flick through his videos and performances online, or even a cursory listen to Home Again, will quickly show that to lump Kiwanuka in with the general singer-songwriter masses would be to seriously underestimate his potential. The performances are note-perfect but never overproduced, and the album takes the listener on a journey from the souljazz swing of opener ‘Tell Me A Tale’ to the gentle lullaby sway of recent single ‘I’m Getting Ready’. Whatever the style or the setting, though, the softly-sung lyrics are as well considered as the guitar playing, and often it’s this musicianship that makes him such an exciting prospect, especially live.

Kiwanuka’s live shows sensibly rely on his talents and charisma, leaving the tricks of the ‘stage show’ to those who need it. His uncanny knack of evoking the heyday of soul makes for an intimate event even in larger venues, and he and his band manage to recreate and often surpass the already solid live recordings. It’s a reputation borne out of a couple of years of hard touring (with the odd high-profile TV appearance thrown in, such as on Later … with Jools Holland in the UK and The Late Show with David Letterman in the US), and a summer of festivals leading up to his current European tour, which will see him make his second Danish stop of 2012, graduating from Lille Vega in April to the upcoming performance at Store Vega.

All of which make the prospects for this show unquestionably good, but on recent history, is it still too early to predict the longer-term outlook for Kiwanuka? Perhaps, but as with any higher-class musician, the impression is that he’s not in it for the fame or the chart positions, and that will only ever be a good thing for any discerning music fan.

Michael Kiwanuka
Store Vega; Wed 20:00
240kr, www.billetlugen.dk