Music is something that has consistently been a huge part of black culture for decades. Our biggest inspirations for modern music come from African slave songs, which influenced the Blues, which influenced Jazz and Country, which influenced Rock… and so on. Where there is famous white man being praised for his music, there are 10 black people that have done it before him. Even the “King of Rock”, Elvis Presley, wasn’t the real king. Chuck Berry came before him and inspired him along with classic African American gospel music.
Music is the counter culture for the establishment. It’s an outlet for people that break social norms to fight against the establishment. This is why music has always been popular in black culture. I only say all of this because it seems to be important in this interview. This whole song revolves around his race, so it feel it necessary to keep in mind the influence black culture has had over the music scene. To hear Michael Kiwanuka say that he didn’t feel he could write a country song due to the fact that he was black, was disheartening. Country music shares its origins in black culture as well, with singers like Charlie Pride earning star status in that genre. Putting limits on yourself is the first step to failure, but despite this, Kiwanuka was still able to create a beautiful song that represented his feeling of isolation growing up in middle class Britain.
I understand where Kiwanuka’s concern over offending white people came from. Currently, racial tensions are high, even in Europe, and dividing your audience puts you at risk of angering people. But, in my perspective, music is a vastly different from other businesses. Music is an expression of feelings that represent the majority of the minority. Although people might not be able to relate to his unique life, his message, of feeling misunderstood and outcast in society, resonates with most.
Black Man in a White World is a great song which, in my opinion, is an excellent example of experimentation with genres of sound to make a song that is not only groovy, but has a meaningful message. Kiwanuka seems to be struggling through the growing pains many artists go through when trying to find a sound to match their message. But his message, of not fitting in with a world that’s not made for him, resonates with a huge audience despite their race. His fears of isolating his audience are valid, but not needed. Music is a place where anti-establishment ideas are welcome; It is a place of possibilities and opportunities. One only has to look into the past to see that despite suppression and demonization, music has always been a place where the possibilities were not limited by skin color.