12:30am, St. David's Historic Sanctuary
The voice, a soft, rootsy howl, that's what draws you to Michael Kiwanuka. It's a bonus that the London folk singer possesses a down-to-earth charm and gift for simple, graceful songwriting that recalls the acoustic soul of a young Bill Withers. Kiwanuka, born to Ugandan parents, didn't have many musical touchstones growing up, but Withers and Jimi Hendrix were among the first he could relate to.
"I absolutely loved guitar growing up, but I never saw anyone on TV or in magazines that were young black people playing guitar," he admits. "I felt like it wasn't a thing that you did. Of course it was naive, but I was young and I had nothing to identify with. People used to write band names on their bags – rock bands, punk bands – and people would write Nirvana and Pennywise but Hendrix would be there, too, so I assumed that was another white band.
"When he came on TV, I saw he was a black guy with an Afro playing this kind of rock & roll and bluesy soul."
The 24-year-old is just getting started. After toiling as a session guitarist, he launched a solo career just last year, releasing three EPs, touring Europe with Adele, and landing a major label record deal. He recently finished a beautifully melancholic collaboration with Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys and won the BBC Sound of 2012 award, an industry poll predicting the next big thing in the UK.
"I wasn't expecting to get anywhere far with my music, but I've managed to open a few doors, which is really cool," says the singer, prepping the stateside release of debut Home Again for this summer. "I hope it just continues to grow and allows me to play bigger places and different countries around the world."