Creativity and Making: Kiwanuka

Michael Kiwanuka explains how his song “Black Man in a White World” came to be. He describes a sensation of lost-ness that I know many artists have felt at some point, if not more often than anything else during their artist career. This creativity block posed Kiwanuka with a drastic feeling of being obsolete in his music career. He had the talent but not the creativity. As an artist myself, this is something I have always struggled with the most, I know I can do anything I can put my mind to but it’s as if my mind refuses to develop anything that’s unapologetically bold and original. The frustration and discouragement that grows from this blockage is one that can take certain artists to a breaking point, but Kiwanuka explains how he broke out of his.

In the beginning, the musician had no idea what to do, and the words that eventually lead to his hit actually came just from him sitting and looking at what the situation is: he is who he is and that is a black man. He brings up how the fear of rejection almost struck him out from trying at all. Something else that I think a lot of artists struggle with. If we were able to JUST do and not think about other peoples’ opinions, artistry would be so much easier. But the truth is that most art speaks to people and as successful works, it should induce some sort of feeling or emotion. The audiences reaction is what artists aim for and it’s what strikes fear into our hearts. He finally decides to use the line “I’m a black man in a white world” despite his unease. he does so by deciding that he is just going to tell it like it is and not worry about what he thought the people wanted. You can tell, though, that he still tried to play it a little safe by adding the line “I don’t mind who I am, I don’t mind who you are,” in his song, which I’m guessing was due to his fear of being seen as a “racist” white people hater. If we are being honest, I wouldn’t be surprised if people would have or even still have said something like that and I’m sure he’s had experiences that lead him to that inference.

As Kim Tan mention in her Ted Talk, many creative minds get a majority of their inspiration from their life and childhood, which can include trauma or struggling. Kiwanuka explains that growing up as an English Ugandan, he felt an extreme displacement. His family in native lands would call him hurtful nicknames that implied he was white, however in the UK, he was obviously much more different than the typical British man. He wasn’t fully accepted as black nor white and it left him feeling like he didn’t belong anywhere. This is an extremely important aspect to consider when discussing where the inspiration for his music came, especially this song in particular. It paved way for the genre, since he feared the ridicule he might get for doing it the way he originally wanted to. It gave a basis for the cultural inspirations he added to the song and and the emotions he wanted to pull from the listeners, as well as the additional voices he added which he assumed would be a stronger representation of his story.

It’s crucial that you find the voice you are looking for when creating art, whether in music, visuals, sculpture, dance, fashion or anything. You should realize that you are not only representing yourself but your experiences. I think it is a little bit hard for some artists to reach that understanding and to be able to let their creativity flow out of them with freedom and lack of caution. Kiwanuka’s process of creating his song “Black Man in a White World,” is a perfect example of someone realizing that they could reach their full potential if they just let go of fears. Seeing an end product rather than an ending reaction is healthier and allows for much more growth. I believe that is was Michael Kiwanuka’s intention, in this interview, to give an insight to where in his heart his song came from but also to give a sense of hope and freedom to other artists.

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