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British Soul Singer Michael Kiwanuka Hits SXSW

09:31 AM Thursday 3/15/12 | |

Michael Kiwanuka found the perfect combination to cut through the ceaseless din at the South By Southwest Music Conference: an angelic voice and an acoustic guitar.

The British soul singer captivated an audience of several hundred Wednesday on his first trip to Texas, playing a batch of songs that has made him a rising star in his home country and an artist of extreme interest at SXSW. A couple hundred fans watched as Kiwanuka started his 40-minute set and scores flocked into the room as he played songs like his breakthrough, “Tell Me a Tale,” and “Lasan,” his slow-burning new track featuring The Black Keys guitarist Dan Auerbach.

The reaction was immediate and warm. Afterward, Kiwanuka was stopped often by fans in the hallways of the Austin Convention Center.

“There’s a quite positive vibe for music,” Kiwanuka said. “In England people like music, but in a different way. Like, we did an in-store (performance) a few days ago and it was really good. But you never really know if you’ve done a good gig in London until after maybe you see a review. It’s like people just standing there. Here people are into it. So it’s different that way, and then the guitar shops are much better here.”

Kiwanuka, who has Ugandan roots, won the BBC’s Best of Sound 2012 as Britain’s top act to watch this year. And after a trio of well-received EPs, his new album, Home Again, is out this week in England and will be released this summer in the U.S.

His stint at SXSW marks the first time Kiwanuka has been anywhere outside Los Angeles or New York City in the U.S., and his head was on a swivel much of the day. He said it made him feel like a kid again and he was looking for inspiration in every corner.

Some of his deepest influences, like Otis Redding, are from the South and he was amazed by the vibe in Austin.

“It seems like people who are really interested in music come down, and that’s really how you spread the word,” Kiwanuka said. “Hopefully it gives me a good boost in the U.S. because I’d love to do something out here. So much of my music is obviously influenced by American music. And I’m hoping that it does that for me really.”

After wrapping up the interview, Kiwanuka ran down a list of things he was excited to do while at the conference. But first things first ...

“I have a friend who told me about this great guitar shop,” he said with an infectious smile.


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