Michael Kiwanuka, with a voice and sound that can be classified as timeless, has been organically building his stature over the past two years. It’s much like the early days of Norah Jones, Ray LaMontagne or Gary Clark Jr. – an artist the hipsters can say they were into before anybody else. Sometimes you just have to let others discover music on their own.
“I know exactly what you’re talking about,” Kiwanuka’s stateside agent, Kirk Sommer, told Pollstar. “I followed Michael for several years before we formalized our relationship. I heard a couple of demos, heard this magical, soulful voice that’s right up there with some of the legends.”
Those legends range from Marvin Gaye to Van Morrison to Shuggie Otis. The U.K. artist, with Ugandan parents, has been compared to all of them, although he gets slotted mostly alongside Bill Withers. Even though his album Home Again has a classic sound, it is still the work of a young, modern-day artist. While some artists have a quick rise and fall, Kiwanuka is raising his profile from good old-fashioned word of mouth.
Sommer knew that, and he waited patiently for the world to catch on.
“I continued to keep in touch with Robert Swerdlow, his great, capable manager, and I was just finally at a point where I said, ‘OK, that’s it. I don’t care how long this has to develop. I want in.’ I went straight after the festivals for some of the ‘early looks.’ The world took some notice, then Adele had him open some of her European dates. It was a perfect pairing.”
Now, with Kiwanuka landing the BBC Sound 2012 prize, then trending on Twitter, he’s starting to get a lot of looks. He recently recorded with Dan Auerbach, has already played Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza, and is on a U.S. tour culminating at the Austin City Limits Music Festival.
“He’s a global priority,” Sommer said. “There’s demand throughout the world and we really just need to take a view on what’s in his best interest.”