I have a confession. I often pick the musical artist for music Mondays super last minute. In fact, sometimes I pick it the day of. However, the reason why I do not feel as guilty about this truth is because diamonds are revealed under pressure. And, today, while talking to a dear friend (Darryl Jones, at the 1 Hotel South Beach), Michael Kiwanuka’s soul-wrenching vocals revealed itself to me. All I remember is Darryl saying, “Do you hear the lyrics to the song that is playing?” It was playing somewhat softly on Beachcraft‘s playlist so I shazammed it. The screen said, “I Am A Black Man In A White World.” Wow. Unassumingly bold, brilliantly poetic and candidly courageous given the time we live, where more black boys are dying by the hands of police for whatever reason. Nonetheless, I was intrigued and had to research and do my due diligence to learn more about the soul behind this creation.
His name is Michael Kiwanuka – born and raised in Muswell Hill, North London and child of immigrants who fled Idi Amin’s despotic regime in Uganda. Kiwanuka wrote the track as a consequence of realizing that the majority of his audience was white at his concerts. Being raised in a middle class environment, he was not surprised as he was use to it. However, when he went to America for the first time, he realized how segregated it was. And I am not just talking about physical representations of segregation either. In an interview he did with Irish Examiner, Kiwanuka explains, “I’ve been marketed as a black soul singer, which is perhaps what I am. But I don’t feel like that. In my head, where I grew up, I was more used to middle class white England. That’s what I’ve been around all my life. The fact no black people were coming to my gigs made me realise we’re more segregated than we think. Even in the kinds of music we listen to.”
Believe it or not, Drake made the same mention a few months ago around Grammy time and now these sentiments possessed by another black man has given birth to a song that explores the feelings of a black man in a white world. Kiwanuka went on to share, “I guess it became a statement. All of this stuff has been going around my head since I was a teenager. The differences in culture — everything. Where I fit in European white society. Does colour really matter? It’s pretty obvious that certain kinds of records are bought by certain kinds of people without any crossover. I’m sort of in the middle of that. If you are around it your entire life, it weighs on you.”
“A Black Man In A White World” is the lead single from Kiwanuka’s second album, LOVE & HATE. Drawing from righteous influences such as Pink Floyd, Sam Cooke and Scritti Politti, the project is incredibly smart and penetrating. Check out the beautifully shot video with hints of political innuendo as a police car crashes into another car within what we can assume is a black community. Take a look at the video and let us know if you are as blown away with it as we are. It may be almost a year old, but its’ impact is just as salient and poignant.
Michael Kiwanuka, you have just been heART of Cool STAMPED. Thank you for sharing your authentic journey with us.
ADDITIONAL INTERESTING FACTS ABOUT KIWANUKA:
💚In 2012, Kiwanuka placed first in the BBC Sound Of poll of up and coming new talent, ahead of future stars A$AP Rocky and Frank Ocean. The poll is a generally reliable barometer of imminent global ubiquity; other ‘Sound Of’ picks from around that time include Sam Smith and Adele.
💙He studied at Fortisemere School, a well-to-do former grammar school whose alumni include advertising guru Maurice Saatchi, author Toby Young and Turner-winning artist Rachel Whiteread.
💜He started out as a session player around the UK capital, guesting for grime artists Chipmunk and Bashy. In this world of beats and disses, he was in his own mind an outsider.
❤️In 2013, Kanye West invited him to guest on his Yeezus album. Kiwanuka ended up sitting in the studio not sure what to say. Kanye told him to do “his thing”. Kiwanuka was confused as to what that was exactly and, left to his own devices, slunk off.
💜Love & Light☀️,
CRISTEN M. MILLS