Michael Kiwanuka has won the 2020 Hyundai Mercury Prize for the Kiwanuka album (Polydor).
This year’s winner was unveiled live on BBC One’s The One Show by BBC Radio 1 presenter Annie Mac.
The decision was made by judges on a Zoom call 24 hours earlier. Kiwanuka appeared in the studio and Mac revealed that the singer-songwriter had been under the impression he was there for a Jools Holland interview unrelated to the Mercury.
Kiwanuka has been nominated for all three of his albums but this is his first Mercury Prize win. The LP was widely acclaimed by critics upon release and also earned him a BRIT nomination. You can read his Music Week interview here.
Michael Kiwanuka said: “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.”
The broadcast was a prime-time TV moment that could raise the profile of the prize and winning artist, although the Mercury had to compete with special guest Alicia Keys. The announcement was also live on Radio 1 and 6 Music.
“It’s a massive moment for the music industry,” said co-host Amol Rajan.
It was another big result for Polydor, which has just won the Record Company and A&R titles at the Music Week Awards.
The winning album, which peaked at No.2, has sales to date of 74,928, according to the Official Charts Company. Click here to see the full impact of the prize on shortlisted acts.
Amber Davis, head of A&R, Warner Chappell Music UK, said: “After being only the third artist ever to receive a Mercury nomination for each of their first three albums, I think it’s fitting that Michael takes home the prize for what is his most personal and, what I think is his best album. At a time when the album format is being questioned, Michael continues to deliver brilliant pieces of work that push boundaries and prove it is as important as ever. I’d like to congratulate Michael on this fantastic win!"
As well as the £25,000 payment to the winner, Kiwanuka can expect a sales boost from the Mercury triumph. Last year’s winner Dave saw sales increase by 98.5% week-on-week following the ceremony. It has sales to date of 241,185 (including 217,826 from streams).
Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, there was no awards ceremony – but the BPI did secure expanded broadcast coverage in partnership with BBC Music. A BBC Four special featured several performances from shortlist acts.
Kiwanuka will be interviewed on a special edition of Later… With Jools Holland on BBC Two on Friday (September 25) at 10pm. BBC Radio 6 Music has also supported the prize with programming.
I'm so excited - this is for art, for music, for albums
During his One Show appearance, Kiwanuka thanked his album collaborators and producers, Inflo and Danger Mouse.
“They’re some of the best musicians, artists and creators around,” he said. “They’ve really helped me grow and learn to see what I can be and broaden my horizons as an artist. I owe so much to them for my whole career.”
Asked about the album being self-titled, he said: “I wanted to really express myself in the truest way I could. When you’re in a business like music or a commercial setting and you have to be out there to the public, you can sometimes have an imposter syndrome or doubt yourself. I kept having that and it was taking things away from my experience of doing, basically, my dream job.
“So I made a decision when I was making this album that I wanted to really just be myself, enjoy it and not hold back, and really show myself as clear as I could be. So I thought, I’m just going to call it Kiwanuka – and the name itself says a lot for me because it’s my heritage, it’s who I am. Even that is something I want to be loud and proud about, so I’m going to call it Kiwanuka.”
He added: “My hopes are just to continue making albums, and make music that can connect with as many people as possible. Hopefully, this is an award that will help me do that and put my music out there to more people than ever. Hopefully it can be music to help people get through their day or make them feel good. That’s really what I hope it can do.”
The judging panel said: “Kiwanuka by Michael Kiwanuka is the well deserved winner of the 2020 Hyundai Mercury Prize 2020 for Album of the Year. Classic yet contemporary, drawing on the history of music while remaining an intensely personal work of self expression, this is an album that will stand the test of time. Songs such as Hero and You Ain’t The Problem deal with hot button topics like race and identity, but in a reflective way that draws the listener in.
"From its narrative flow to the interludes, from civil rights speeches to its panoramic mix of everything from psychedelic rock to piano jazz, Kiwanuka is not only a complete work, but also one that is borne of the courage of its creator to build his own world and invite us in. Warm, rich, hugely accomplished and belonging to no one genre but its own, Kiwanuka is a masterpiece.”
The judging panel for this year’s prize was: Anna Calvi, Annie Mac, Danielle Perry (Absolute Radio), Gaz Coombes, Gemma Cairney (broadcaster & DJ), Jamie Cullum, Jeff Smith (BBC Radio 2 & 6 Music), Jorja Smith, Mike Walsh (music consultant), Phil Alexander (creative director, Kerrang!/contributing editor, Mojo); Tshepo Mokoena (editorial director, Vice.com); Will Hodgkinson (journalist, The Times). The judging panel was chaired by Jeff Smith.
Digital music partner YouTube Music has promoted the prize from the shortlist announcement in July. A livestream of the BBC Four special was available on YouTube for international viewers.
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PHOTO CREDIT: Jeff Spicer/Getty