Review: Michael Kiwanuka – Love & Hate

Emma Connolly

Emma Connolly

Emma lives in England. Ace the dog keeps her feet and heart warm while she writes about music and culture.
Emma Connolly

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Michael Kiwanuka first came to the attention of this author with his Jack White-produced cover of the Townes Van Zandt classic “Waitin’ ‘Round to Die” in 2014, the B-side of a Third Man Records single. Although Kiwanuka had already released an album, Home Again, in 2012, the Van Zandt cover demonstrated that he could be something more than (very effective) repro-Soul. The song had a sharp, chilling edge and demanded the listener’s attention. After two further years, Kiwanuka has returned with a new album, Love & Hate, released on 15 July.


This is an elegant and soulful album of ten tracks, containing the anthemic ‘Black Man in a White Man’s World’ (co-written with London producer Inflo) which speaks perfectly to this unquiet summer of 2016. Kiwanuka says, “That song is about all the sadness and frustrations of childhood, of being one of very few black kids in Muswell Hill [north London], and never feeling like fitting in. It’s about not feeling like I could be a rock star, of always being categorised as jazz, of attending the Royal Academy of Music and seeing no black people on the course, and thinking just how much I was a black man in a white world.”

I’m a black man in a white world
I’m in love but I’m still sad
I found peace but I’m not glad

Although Kiwanuka may wish to be a rock star rather than a jazz legend, much of the strength of this album comes from its fluid interplay of various heritage styles; 70s soul that picks up right where Marvin Gaye’s What’s Goin’ On left off sits alongside hints of The Verve’s ‘Bittersweet Symphony’ speaking to British orchestral pop roots from the 1960s, flashes of Jimi Hendrix in Kiwanuka’s guitar playing. There is jazz there, too, in the suppleness of the interplay between vocals and instrumentation. It’s worth noting that the album’s other producer was Danger Mouse (a.k.a. Brian Burton) of New York, who has had previous success in bringing older sounds into the present tense with acts including Gnarls Barkley and The Black Keys.

The album finishes with the persistent, gradually guitar-led ‘The Final Frame’, a fine slice of slow rock-soul that tells of love gone wrong. Its subject matter, title and attitude are oddly reminiscent of another North London talent, the sadly late Amy Winehouse. Kiwanuka is proving himself deserving of equal popularity, and it is to be hoped that this level-headed Christian Ugandan-Londoner can own his fame rather than the other way round.

Michael Kiwanuka

Photo credit: Phil Sharp