“Third Time’s a Charm” – Kiwanuka wins 2020 Hyundai Mercury Music Prize

It was third time lucky for Michael Kiwanuka on Thursday, as he claimed the 2020 Hyundai Mercury Music Prize with his self-titled album Kiwanuka.

Although the folk and soul singer was the bookies favourite to win the award, nothing was guaranteed. The artist was nominated in previous years for Home Again (2012) and Love & Hate (2016). 

In winning, Kiwanuka edged out a strong field of twelve albums, including Dua Lipa’s Future Nostalgia, Charli XCX’s How I’m Feeling Now, Laura Marling’s Song for Our Daughter and Stormzy’s Heavy is the Head.

The winner was announced live on The One Show by DJ Annie Mac, with a “unanimous” verdict from the twelve strong panel.  The Mercury Prize judges described the album as  “classic yet contemporary” and “an album that will stand the test of time”. They added Warm, rich, hugely accomplished and belonging to no one genre but its own, Kiwanuka is a masterpiece.”

“I don’t even know what to say – I’m speechless. This is amazing…I don’t even have any words. This is ridiculous, it’s crazy! I’m so happy. Third time’s a charm. It’s blown my mind. I’m over the moon, I’m so excited – this is for art, for music, for albums. This is the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do so to win a Mercury is a dream come true. I’m so happy. Music and art means so much to me and this is an award that celebrates that so I’m over the moon.”

Michael Kiwanuka live on The One Show after the winner was revealed.

Michael Kiwanuka, 33, was born and raised in London to Ugandan parents who fled the Idi Amin regime.  He started out as a session guitarist before embarking on a solo career. His winning album was released in November 2019 and is a fusion of soul, folk and gospel interspersed with samples of civil rights protestors and commentary on racial politics.

“Provocative, warm and sincere and it’s also packed with superb songs.”

The Guardian – Review of Kiwanuka

Twitter burst into life, with Kiwanuka trending as the Mercury Music Prize winner was announced. Hundreds took to the platform to celebrate the win and add their comments with congratulations coming from both inside and outside the music industry. “This is well-deserved. It’s been my favourite album of the last year” tweeted Billy Bragg.

Gaz Coombes of Supergrass, and one of the judging panel, remarked “Kiwanuka is a beautiful record…a psychedelic wonder”. Singer Jamie Cullum, another of the judges, wrote “stunning album that vibrates majestically with the true craftsmanship of a great artist” as he tweeted his congratulations.

In addition, to the prestige and the £25,000 prize money, the recognition often helps to boost awareness and record sales for the winner. Kiwanuka originally reached number two and remained in the UK charts for 18 weeks after its original release.

One of the uplifting aspects of the win is the boost for the artist himself. Prior to recorded the album, Kiwanuka had been struggling with moments of self-doubt and imposter syndrome, themes which are touched upon on the album.

Words by Andrew Butcher


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