Some of the most powerful holiday memories I hold are invoked every time I hear certain albums. There’s that summer a bunch of us girls road-tripped from the Eastern Cape to KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape in a bright-red Citi Golf, and long summer afternoons into late evenings over December spent on the veranda of our family home in Galeshewe, Kimberley — the shebeen next door pumping the same popular tune night after night. British-Ugandan Michael Kiwanuka’s self-titled, third album Kiwanuka (pronounced Chi-wa-nuka) will be that evocative soundtrack for many this festive season.
Anchored by introspection, realisations, and positive self-affirmations, it’s an honest album wrapped in a warm blanket of rocking, folksy, melancholic soul. The opening track is an upbeat You Ain’t the Problem; the ballad Solid Ground is reminiscent of Love & Hate, the theme track for HBO hit series Big Little Lies; and the expansive Final Days will open up wounds you thought had healed.
It kinda sounds like what a good Old Fashioned tastes like: sweet but with that requisite bitterness to create a perfectly balanced and smooth drinking — or in this case, listening — experience.
LISTEN | You Ain’t the Problem by Kiwanuka:
Rolling Stone has dubbed it psych soul. This label makes total sense to me, but I wonder how Kiwanuka feels about it — he thinks seriously about things a lot.
Pop-culture writer Reggie Ugwu from The New York Times asked him about feeling like an outlier as a black kid who listened to rock and remarked on how much he feels rock has fallen outside of the mainstream. Kiwanuka replied: “The good thing is, if you’re making rock and indie now, you’re definitely not doing it to be cool, or make millions of dollars. And I think sometimes that’s how you get those game-changing albums that shock people with something that feels real and true and unexpected. I definitely think music could do with something like that again.”
If you haven’t heard Kiwanuka featured on Atlanta and When They See Us, get to know him on this really special offering. This one is definitely going to age well.
• From the December edition of Wanted 2019.