With Michael Kiwanuka, it's all about the voice. A voice that he describes as "hitting straight through to the core" with direct, emotional songs about love, yearning, comfort and belonging.
Growing up in North London, he struggled at times to see where he fitted in. Like most of his schoolmates, he liked bands like Nirvana, Radiohead, Offspring and Blur, but it was only when he discovered that Jimi Hendrix was black that he understood he had a place playing rock guitar.
Michael started playing in rock bands at school, and when he was 16 went east to Hackney in search of other musicians to work with. He began hanging out with Tiny Tempah collaborator Labrinth at his studio, played contemporary R&B, soul and jazz-funk at small jam sessions, and did some session guitar for the likes of Tottenham rapper Chipmunk. "It was fun and I learned loads, but I still felt like I didn't quite fit in. I couldn't express the side of me that had played in rock bands, or listened to Dylan or Nirvana."
So he began writing his own songs quietly at home, just for fun. They weren't meant for other people to hear – at least not at first. "No one would give me a gig playing the kind of music I loved, so I had to write my own. It was more to keep my passion in music alive, just something to do to keep my soul warm, you know. It didn't fit into what was in the charts at the time!"
Eventually, he recorded demos of a few songs, hoping to give them to others to perform. But he was surprised to find that people loved his voice, and began encouraging him to play small shows. And finally, he found his place in the world. Â "I love singing live, the feeling when you really connect with an audience, when suddenly there's a hush and you can feel it in the air. It doesn't happen all the time, but when it does, it's really special."