The soul revival: A change is gonna come in the charts

Adele has led the way – and now a new crop of young artists like Michael Kiwanuka Emeli Sandé and Daley are spearheading the great soul revival

In some quarters, Michael Kiwanuka topping the BBC's Sound of 2012 poll has been criticised as a retrograde step. His warm voice and gentle acoustic reveries on early EPs harks back to a time when decimal coinage was seen as cutting edge.

Yet this singer/songwriter's anointing as a hot tip for the coming year shows the continuing resurgence of soul music following last year's global domination by Adele, who Kiwanuka supported on her UK tour. Both he, and the female artist who enjoyed the two bestselling UK albums of 2011, are successfully rehashing retro styles for a new generation of fans. Yet classically soulful vocals are making a comeback elsewhere, from artists with similarly roots-based sensibilities to those grounded in more contemporary sounds.

It marks a return to the neo-soul ethos of the late Nineties when the likes of Lauryn Hill and Erykah Badu reacted against the domination of hip-hop in black music by returning to traditional songwriting and organic backing to signify their integrity and emotional honesty. Current practitioners, though, are open to a wider range of influences than before, with the freedom to take a variety of directions. Their knowledge is gleaned variously from parents' record collections, first musical loves or through online research. Their inspirations can range from the brash funk-pop of Prince to Bill Withers, the gravel-voiced writer of "Ain't No Sunshine" and "Lovely Day", a particular touchstone for Kiwanuka. "In a sense he wrote soul songs in a very stripped-back manner, which is something that I can really identify with," the north Londoner explains. "When I first heard his music, particularly his Live at Carnegie Hall album, it encouraged me to keep on doing what I was doing."

Kiwanuka also namechecks Marvin Gaye and Otis Redding, though adds that he considers "soul music to be any music that's direct from the heart as opposed to it being a certain style. So other artists that people may not necessarily consider to be soul artists have influenced me too – Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, and Kurt Cobain." Yet just as Hill first came to fame with hip-hop group The Fugees, that genre still has a part to play in helping soul singers gain recognition, notably on this side of the Atlantic with the Scottish former neuroscience student Emeli Sandé.

The Aberdonian singer first came to public attention by guesting on a succession of hip-hop tracks – Chipmunk's debut single, "Diamond Rings", Wiley's "Never Be Your Woman" and Professor Green's chart-topper "Read All About It". Her beginnings in the music industry, though, were as a songwriter, penning material for artists including Susan Boyle and Tinie Tempah. As a solo artist, she made an immediate impact last year by reaching No 2 with "Heaven". While that tune fitted the contemporary R&B format, its follow-up, "Daddy", came with echoing drums and ominous piano notes that hinted at its creator's soul inspirations. In interviews, she has revealed that hearing Nina Simone was a formative influence.

Coming up in Sandé's wake is Mancunian artist Daley. He, too, has followed that singer's lead by making his mark as a guest vocalist – in his case on the Gorillaz single "Doncamatic". Daley mentions D'Angelo, Maxwell, Jill Scott and Badu as influences.

As an unsigned artist, it was a feat for Daley to make the BBC's Sound of 2011. Since then, he has added vocals to the rapper Wretch 32's tune "Long Way Home" and signed to Polydor. Another northerner, Salford's Ren Harvieu, comes with a more retro sound aiming for the Duffy market, while Marlon Roudette's smooth, high-registered delivery has gone down a storm in Germany. The most striking talents, though, have come from a similar singer/songwriter background to Kiwanuka, notably Lianne La Havas and Cold Specks. The latter is Canadian artist Al Spx, who handily describes her bluesy spirituals and stark acoustic backing as "doom soul", adding to the mix gospel, Americana and folk.

Closer to home, La Havas came to attention when her debut Lost & Found EP came out on indie label Labour of Love last November. After appearing on the same Later... With Jools Holland show as Bon Iver, the south Londoner was offered a US support slot with him last month. Now signed to Warner Bros, her next EP, Found, follows in February. Although she plays electric guitar, La Havas has a jazzy, hollow-bodied style that suits her measured voice, which reflects her Mum's neo-soul influences and the jazz practitioners she learnt about at singing lessons.

Neither the rootsy Spx or La Havas with her jazz stylings put their unadorned music in opposition to contemporary sounds, with their digital provenance and oversaturated mixes. The latter, though, does say, "I'm offering a simpler way of getting across a message that means something to me. There's a lot of pop around and I hope I offer a different angle."

Emeli Sandé's album 'Our Version of Events' is out on 13 February on EMI Records

Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

film Sex scene trailer sees a shirtless Jamie Dornan turn up the heat

Arts and Entertainment

film

Arts and Entertainment
A sketch of Van Gogh has been discovered in the archives of Kunsthalle Bremen in Germany
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Eleanor Catton has hit back after being accused of 'treachery' for criticising the government.
books
Arts and Entertainment
Fake Banksy stencil given to artist Alex Jakob-Whitworth

art

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is heading to Norwich for Radio 1's Big Weekend

music
Arts and Entertainment
Beer as folk: Vincent Franklin and Cyril Nri (centre) in ‘Cucumber’
tvReview: This slice of gay life in Manchester has universal appeal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
‘A Day at the Races’ still stands up well today
film
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tvAnd its producers have already announced a second season...
Arts and Entertainment
Kraftwerk performing at the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) museum in Berlin earlier this month
musicWhy a bunch of academics consider German electropoppers Kraftwerk worthy of their own symposium
Arts and Entertainment
Icelandic singer Bjork has been forced to release her album early after an online leak

music
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth as Harry Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service

film
Arts and Entertainment
Brian Blessed as King Lear in the Guildford Shakespeare Company's performance of the play

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
    Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

    The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

    Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
    Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

    A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
    How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

    How books can defeat Isis

    Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
    The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

    The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

    The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
    Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

    Young carers to make dance debut

    What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
    Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

    Design Council's 70th anniversary

    Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
    Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

    Dame Harriet Walter interview

    The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

    Bill Granger's winter salads

    Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
    England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

    George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

    No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
    Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links