About Michael Kiwanuka
It took a while for Michael Kiwanuka to feel at ease with himself. The warm blend of folk and soul on his 2012 debut, Home Again, earned the singer-songwriter a Mercury Prize nomination and an invitation to be part of Kanye West’s Yeezus sessions in Hawaii. Kiwanuka accepted, but after a few days he slipped away, suffering from impostor syndrome. “I’ve always felt like you are these shoes that you half-fill, or someone’s going to come in and say, ‘Right, your time’s up. We found you out,’” he told Apple Music. “It’s frustrating, but sometimes it’s good because it keeps you on your toes.”
That gives context to lines such as “I’ve been ashamed/All my life” from 2017’s “Cold Little Heart,” which broke the Londoner in the US when it became the theme to TV hit Big Little Lies. By then, contemplating ideas of self and belonging was nothing new to him. The son of Ugandan immigrants, Kiwanuka was born in May 1987 and raised in Muswell Hill, North London, where there was only one other African family in the neighborhood. As a teenage skater with a love of folk and punk, he found himself outside the prevailing trends for indie rock and grime. Nevertheless, he fed his musical curiosity by studying jazz guitar and popular music in college before his online demos prompted calls from labels.
In 2016, his second album, Love & Hate—also Mercury-nominated—embraced strings, psychedelia, and funk while he dug further into his sense of self, particularly on lead single “Black Man in a White World.” A demo of that track had persuaded Danger Mouse to join UK beatsmith Inflo behind the boards for the album, and the trio reunited for 2019’s KIWANUKA. Bolder, grander, and charged with emotional punch, this one actually won the Mercury Prize. Opening with self-acceptance anthem “You Ain’t the Problem,” the free-spirited set presented a man who was finally comfortable in those half-filled shoes. “[The title] is almost a statement to myself,” he said. “I want to be able to say, ‘This is me, rain or shine.’ People might like it, people might not. It’s OK—at least people know who I am.”