Soul singer keeps it simple

By Paula Yeoman

Kiwi gigs will be small and intimate, writes Paula Yeoman

Musician Michael Kiwanuka. Photo / Supplied
Musician Michael Kiwanuka. Photo / Supplied

Michael Kiwanuka has always shied from modern pop music. When British singer-songwriter Michael Kiwanuka was last in New Zealand he performed a tiny promo gig for industry insiders. But when he returns next month, he will be playing for the fans that supported his hugely successful 2012 debut album Home Again.

Born in 1987, Kiwanuka grew up in the North London suburb of Muswell Hill. And while his classmates followed trends in music closely, blasting the latest cheesy pop from S Club 7 and Steps, it wasn't for Kiwanuka.

"I'm not someone who would tell people what music is good and bad, because it's subjective," he says. "But I just never liked it. It just felt a bit plastic to me. I don't want to offend anyone, I loved music so much I just wanted more and it didn't seem quite enough."

The differences didn't stop there - hardcore grime from the local hip-hop heroes wasn't for him either.

"I loved the guitar. No one in London who was young and black played guitar. The music I was listening to was from guitar bands like Nirvana. They'd finished when I was young, but I would listen to that because it had a raw edge to it. Not that Dizzee Rascal doesn't, like the early stuff, but I just liked the guitar and rock 'n' roll music at that time," he recalls.

Now it's the likes of Bill Withers, Paul Simon and Otis Redding that Kiwanuka counts as his musical heroes, all of whom have heavily influenced the timeless, folk-tinged soul that makes up Home Again.

The Mercury Prize-nominated album has taken Kiwanuka around the world. He has performed at some of the most magical spots on the globe, as well as some of the biggest festivals.

And yet, it's the smaller more intimate shows, such as the upcoming New Zealand shows at Auckland's Holy Trinity Cathedral and Wellington at Old St Paul's, that he looks forward to most.

"My favourite gigs are the small gigs. They're the coolest to play. My show is stripped back and pretty intimate. And I try to make it as soulful as possible. I just like simply played songs."

Michael Kiwanuka performs at Auckland's Holy Trinity Cathedral on Thursday, April 4.

- Herald on Sunday

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