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Michael Kiwanuka

Venue: Cadogan Hall

Date: 31 March 2016

By Jess Denham | 07 April 2016

Michael Kiwanuka is back, and getting ready to force those pigeonholing him as yet another soul revivalist to open their minds.

The 28-year-old, born to Ugandan refugees, attracted mainstream attention when he won the BBC Sound of 2012 poll in 2012 and supported Adele on her 21 tour.

Debut album Home Again impressed critics and saw him aligned with the likes of Otis Redding and Bill Withers, his honeyed vocals and effortless intensity irresistible as an antidote to too-often vacuous chart offerings. Then, he disappeared for four years.

Kiwanuka was evidently buzzing as he took to the stage for a sold-out gig at Sloane Square's Cadogan Hall, and rightly so, for little did the audience know that an arsenal of new songs awaited. Fresh tracks dominated the set list from start to finish, performed more dramatically than his fans are used to with backing dancers, a full band and even an arty concept video.

Crucially, Kiwanuka has experimented with his sound rather than churning out more of the earthy, purer tracks that helped him break through. This explains why upcoming second album Love & Hate - produced by Danger Mouse and Inflo no less - has taken so long to reach us, but with tinges of gospel and Pink Floyd-esque psychedelia adding edge to his impassioned and untainted vocals, ignoring any pressure to rush was savvy.

 

Bluesy "Black Man in a White World" proved the dazzling highlight, captivating everyone with its rhythmic clapping, refreshing vulnerability and challenging lyrics that tackle self-identity and the inherently human desire to belong. Kiwanuka was Mercury Prize-nominated with Home Again and judging by this track he's already laid claim to this year's gong.

The more melancholic "I'll Never Love" softened the tone - Kiwanuka joking that its "sad but luckily quite short" - while "One More Night" and "The Final Frame" showcased more of the timeless yet contemporary cocktail he so successfully shakes up.

Notably missing from this comeback was a stripped back, acoustic interlude, but the sprinkling of old favourites like "I'm a Getting Ready" and "Always Waiting" satisfied those craving a soothing shot of vintage Kiwanuka.

Ending the night with "Home Again" and "Love & Hate", a standing ovation confirmed the obvious: this North London lad is still very much one to watch.

Love & Hate is set for UK release on 27 May 2016

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