Sound & Vision: Michael Kiwanuka on his Latest Album, Kiwanuka, and Exploring his Own Identity Through Music

Sound and Vision
Emily Fox
photo by Olivia Rose

KEXP's Sound & Vision airs every Saturday morning from 7-9 AM PT, featuring interviews, artistry, commentary, insight, and conversation to that tell broader stories through music, and illustrate why music and art matter. You can also hear more stories in the new Sound & Vision Podcast. New episodes are out every Tuesday. Subscribe now.

Michael Kiwanuka titled his third and most recent album Kiwanuka. The album explores his experience as a first generation Briton, the son of Ugandan immigrants who fled the Idi Amin regime. 

“Just this idea of me growing up in London in white neighborhoods. And me playing gigs [to] mainly white audiences,” says Kiwanuka “It causes you to think of identity way more because you know that you stick out like a sore thumb.”

Sound & Vision host Emily Fox spoke with Kiwanuka about his latest album and how it navigates through his own questions about identity. 

On why he named is latest album after his last name:

The name, for me, used to just cause a bit of identity issues and just feeling like a bit of a fish out of water and, in your youth, you're finding your place and I just never seem to really feel I could just fully settle – when I was in school, people not being able to say the name and then becoming a musician, which is my wildest dreams coming true, and then feeling like that name's not a name you put in lights or whatever. This whole album is just the way of me showing to myself and listeners and people that might hear the music that that has changed and I’m more self-accepting and I'm proud of my heritage. And my name is who I am now. And it's not something that I see as something negative anymore.

On using interludes that sample civil rights era sit ins on Kiwanuka:

One of the producers of the album, Danger Mouse, is seasoned in so many things in terms of production and one of those things is sample based music. I asked could you find anything that we could use as interludes? And he was down and found these sit ins and they were basically from people in civil rights America, black African-Americans around the 60s and early 70s talking about their struggles of identity, about race, about everything that was happening at the time – real struggle. And it was a great way to describe what was happening, in a small way, in my own head when I was growing up in England, just kind of finding out who it is you are – you're from there, you live there, but there’s a part of you that knows that you’re from somewhere else, first generation feeling. 

On playing the single “I’m a Black Man in a White World” in the United States:

In the UK and Europe, that song was the first single and it did okay and was a good introduction to the record. It was a bit different in America. I could feel that just because there was so much tension, but I soon realized that that's the whole point of art in a way really, is you can say things in an art that you couldn't just say around the dinner table and there was no way to say it. But that really was how I felt as a human being, that people could take it negatively or positively, it's up to them. But it was just a blanket statement.

On his music being featured on TV shows like Big Little Lies:

It was really such a huge point in my career because it really brought people to the music. So, I really owe a lot to TV and film. We're in an age where TV and film is having a type of heyday because film and TV has really benefited from the Internet in a way that music has suffered. Netflix, Amazon, it's like there's so much money in it and the production is incredible. The acting is amazing. The writing's really good. And so, not only is it a way to get my music out, it's being associated with incredible pieces of art.

Michael Kiwanuka plays at the Showbox in Seattle on Wednesday, January 29th. 

Related News & Reviews

Sound and Vision

Sound & Vision: Madame Gandhi on the Scandal that Marred this Year's Grammys

Sound & Vision host Emily Fox spoke with artist and activist about gender parity in the music industry.

Read More
Sound and Vision

Sound & Vision: Nissim Black on his Transformation from Gangs, Drugs and Rapping to Hip-Hop Orthodox Jew

Sound & Vision host Emily Fox spoke with the Seattle native about growing up the child of Seattle's earliest hip hop groups and moving to Israel.

Read More
Sound and Vision

Sound & Vision: 47SOUL on the Arab Palestinian Diaspora and Touring the U.S.

Wo’Pop DJ Darek Mazzone talked to 47SOUL about the groups origins and being an Arabic band touring the United States.

Read More