LONDON, Sept 25 — Singer-songwriter Michael Kiwanuka won Britain's Mercury Prize yesterday, accepting the prestigious award on a live evening TV show rather than at a crowd-filled ceremony due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The critically-acclaimed self-titled record beat out 11 other contenders, including music by pop star Dua Lipa and grime phenomenon Stormzy, to claim the title of British or Irish album of the year.
“This is the only thing I've ever wanted to do, so to win the Mercury is like a dream come true — I'm so so happy,” the folk-soul singer told the BBC's One Show shortly after being named the 2020 winner.
“Music and art means so much to me... and this is an award that celebrates that, so I’m over the moon,” the 33-year-old added.
Created in 1992 as an alternative to the more mainstream Brit Awards, the Mercury Prize's past winners have included PJ Harvey, Pulp and Skepta.
Last year saw angst-filled rapper Dave scoop the accolade in a politically-charged London finale that included an expletive shouted from stage at Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
This time around, with Britain the worst-hit country in Europe from the coronavirus and Johnson announcing fresh social restrictions this week as cases surge again, the prize's unveiling was a more low-key affair.
BBC radio DJ Annie Mac, one of the 12 judges, said the panel that chose Kiwanuka — the singer-songwriter's third studio album — were unanimous in their decision.
“I don't think any of the judges walked away unhappy, everyone felt the same thing about this album, which is that it thoroughly deserved to win the prize,” Mac said as she announced the winner.
Kiwanuka, released last November, has earned critics' praise, with NME magazine decribing it as “brave experimentation” and evocative of “the work of greats as such as Bill Withers and Gil Scott-Heron.”
Delving into themes of self-doubt, faith and civil rights, The Guardian has called it one of the best albums of the last decade.
The London-born musician, who is the son of Ugandan parents and known for his folksy symphonic soul music, had been nominated for each of his previous albums — 2012's Home Again and Love & Hate in 2016.
Kiwanuka said this third record was the result of a more personalised approach.
“I made a decision when I was making this album that I wanted to really just be myself, enjoy it and really not hold back and really show myself,” he added.
Winners of the Mercury Prize take home £25,000 (RM131,695) and a likely boost in people buying their album, with some previous recipients having seen their sales skyrocket in the immediate aftermath.
This year's shortlist featured nine solo acts and three bands, and more female acts than ever before.
Alongside established names Stormzy (Heavy is The Head) and Dua lipa (Future Nostalgia), breakthrough artists Sports Team (Deep Down Happy) and Moses Boyd (Dark Matter) were nominated.
Other contenders included Anna Meredith (Fibs), Georgia (Seeking Thrills) and the bands Lanterns on the Lake and Porridge Radio. — AFP