Arriving early at the Deaf Institute, the venue seemed hushed and empty, with only the occasional pair of eyes gleaming from the seating area at the back. This came as no surprise, given it was a mid week gig for an emerging soul act, who is yet to release his debut album. Walking across the room to the outside smoking area, I noticed the bar staff had little to do given the lack of people. Not wanting to stay out in the cold too long and considering the revamp of the cramped balcony to resemble a livestock pen, I re-entered the room to find a crowd had suddenly materialised. Instantly the room filled with excitement, for Michael Kiwanuka, the soul sensation here to entertain Manchester.
Having only come to the attention of many in the past eight months, the North London singer has enjoyed a hectic 2011, with his debut E.P being released in June this year. He has gone from niche and local fanzines to national print and radio coverage, despite this being his first national tour. It would be easy to label all of this as the effect of a typical hype machine, especially considering that he is signed to Communion Records, a small but up and coming outfit that has a knack of backing some of the most appealing quality music around today (in my opinion at least). This assumption would be wrong. His success seems to be due to a heady mix of traditional soul, folk influenced lyrics and a powerful, deep voice.
By the time he comes on to play, the crowd has already been indulged with excellent music from the support acts, We Were Evergreen, a three piece who fuse electro/indie with Crosby, Stills and Nash harmonies, and local singer/songwriter Josephine whose sound is the perfect complement to the headline act. He walks on stage, accompanied only by a bassist, to a loud cheer that quickly dissipates as he starts his first track ‘I’m Getting Ready’. The simple sound coming from stage is mesmerising; his voice soft yet firm, the guitar delicate but intricate. His style is reminiscent of legendary soul acts such as Marvin Gaye or Otis Redding, with a smooth and rich sound, while incorporating a strong folk element, with marks of Bob Dylan and Neil Young.
Michael Kiwanuka – Tell Me A Tale
Though it is difficult to find much wrong with his sound, which fills the room and transfixes the crowd, the same cannot be said for his stage presence. He remains fairly static throughout the performance and seems a bit docile when talking between songs; it is evident that he hasn’t toured much and is still developing how he commands his audience. That said his music is easily enough for this point in his nascent career, and the Deaf Institute didn’t seem to care that much about the lack of vigour on stage.
Michael Kiwanuka’s music is not breaking new ground and to a certain extent it seems his whole act is an anachronism, almost four decades out of date. Yet because of this he embodies the qualities that have made the soul of the 70’s timeless, touching and important. This may limit his appeal to people who prefer newer and modern music, though for dedicated Soul seekers, this man definitely hits the spot.
Michael Kiwanuka’s Website