Singer-songwriter Michael Kiwanuka won the 2020 Mercury Prize for his third album, Kiwanuka.
A lush and immersive album of politicized soul, it sees the star explore themes of self-doubt, faith and civil rights.
Released last November, Kiwanuka beat bestsellers like Future Nostalgia by Dua Lipa and Heavy Is The Head by Stormzy to win the £ 25,000 prize.
“It’s blown away,” the singer said. “Music is all I ever wanted to do, so I’m over the moon.”
Kiwanuka’s victory was revealed by Radio 1’s Annie Mac live on The One Show, after Covid-19 restrictions made the annual awards ceremony impossible.
The DJ, who was on the jury alongside Jamie Cullum and Jorja Smith, said it was a “unanimous” decision.
“I don’t think any of the judges left unhappy,” she said. “Everyone felt the same about this album, it was that it really deserved to win the award.”
The 33-year-old whose Ugandan parents escaped Idi Amin’s regime to settle in Muswell Hill, London, is a former sessional musician who left the Royal Academy of Music to become a solo artist.
He first gained attention after supporting Adele on her 2011 tour and winning the BBC’s Sound of 2012. He released his debut album, Home Again, later that year.
Kiwanuka solidified his reputation with Love And Hate in 2016, which made him a star in the United States when the opening song, Cold Little Heart, became the theme of the Big Little Lies TV series.
Despite its success, his latest album came out of a period of crippling self-doubt.
“I’ve always had impostor syndrome,” he told the BBC last year. “I was always waiting for someone to find out about me.
“But about a year and a half ago, I got fed up with this way of thinking. I just said, ‘This doesn’t help anyone, let alone me.'”
- Interview with Michael Kiwanuka: “ I am not an impostor ”
The result was Kiwanuka’s opening track, You Ain’t The Problem, which the musician swears to stop getting in his way, singing: “I used to hate myself / You got the key / Get out of jail. “
The record continues as a cycle of songs where Kiwanuka’s own experiences and fears are interwoven with samples of civil rights activists and reflections on racial politics.
On the psych-rock hero soliloquy, he compares the murder of 1960s Black Panther activist Fred Hampton to recent American police shootings. Exasperated, he turns to God for answers on the call-and-response coda of I’ve Been Dazed.
Released last November, the album received rave reviews and reached number two on the UK charts. In July, that earned Kiwanuka a hat-trick of three Mercury nominations for his first three albums.
And this is the latest album reflecting the experiences of young black Britons chosen by the judges of Mercury. Kiwanuka is the fifth black male solo artist to win the award in the past six years. Rapper Dave won for Psychodrama last year.
Announcing the winner on The One Show will undoubtedly give Kiwanuka additional record visibility. The prime-time BBC One show regularly attracts three million viewers, compared to 155,000 who watched last year’s final on BBC Four.
The full 2020 roster was:
- Laura Marling – A Song For Our Daughter
- Dua Lipa – Nostalgia for the future
- Radio Porridge – All Bad
- Sports team – Deep Down Happy
- Kano – All Summer Hoodies
- Anna Meredith – FIBS
- Georgia – In search of thrills
- Lanterns on the Lake – Spook the Herd
- Moses Boyd – Dark Matter
- Charli XCX – How I feel now
- Stormzy – Heavy is the head
- Michael Kiwanuka – Kiwanuka
The shortlist was praised for showcasing female artists, who outnumbered males for the first time in their 29-year history.
But organizers have been criticized for excluding Anglo-Asian artist Rina Sawayama because she does not hold a British passport.
After the singer said she was “sorry” by the decision, the BPI, which hosts both the Mercury Prize and the Brit Awards, announced it would reconsider its eligibility criteria.
follow us on Facebook, or on Twitter @BBCNewsEnts. If you have a story suggestion email .