Listening to the music of Michael Kiwanuka, it is hard to believe that this folk/soul singer is only 24 years old. With a husky, raw, crooning voice that is brimming with soul and sincerity, Kiwanuka’s music has an wiser quality to it that comfortably incites comparisons to musicians very much his senior.
Delivering a set-list filled with beautiful, seemingly simple songs with a natural and unassuming ease, it was very hard not to become caught up in the beauty of Kiwanuka’s performance. Performing at The Factory Theatre on Tuesday night, Kiwanuka was supported by fellow up and coming English singer songwriter Ben Howard, who is sure to have gained a whole new bunch of admirers following his set.
Playing vibrant folk rock, Ben Howard is a musician who is well and truly on the rise. Offering his own take on acoustic folk that is far from monotonous, Howard proved himself to be both a highly skilled guitarist and singer. Playing songs drenched with rich melodies and infectious choruses, Howard’s recordings certainly came to life when taken to the stage. Playing material from their debut album Every Kingdom, Howard and his bandmates delivered one hit after another as the crowd cheered at the beginning of each song. Indeed, Howard’s voice has an astoundingly powerful quality to it, as it echoed across the venue with absolute ease.
“Only Love” was a sweet crowd sing-along, while “the Fear” was more upbeat, spiralling into a footstomping chorus. Leaning more towards rock influences by the end of his set, it would have to have been “Black Flies” that was the biggest number of the night. Escalating into an extended instrumental jam, Howard and his band mates Chris Bond (bass and drums) and India Bourne (cello and back-up vocals), proved themselves to be an act well worth experiencing live.
Though Michael Kiwanuka and his band were closing the night, it was Ben Howard who it seemed many had come to see, with some guests leaving in the intermission. Nonetheless, with the recent release of his critically acclaimed debut album Home Again, Kiwanuka’s name has continued to rise and listening to him on Tuesday night it was easy to understand why. In addition to the obvious value of Kiwanuka’s rich, emotional vocals, his songs are superbly written. Each song has a clear, seemingly simple quality to it, putting emphasis upon Kiwanuka’s echoing vocals and interesting jazzy instrumentals. With a closer listen, the intricate compositional details become more apparent, and these were certainly highlighted during their set.
As Kiwanuka draws upon soul, folk, jazz and R&B influences, his sound already seems to have a timeless quality to it. “Tell Me A Tale” evokes the beautiful, soaring and subtly jazzy tracks from Van Morrison’s album Astral Weeks. “Home Again” held the audience’s full attention, as Kiwanuka crooned the gentle, heartwarming number and "I’m Getting Ready” was another favourite, ringing with a soothing optimism.
Both Michael Kiwanuka and Ben Howard played stunning sets on Tuesday night, and I can’t wait to see what the future holds for both of these promising musicians.