(CBS News) Michael Kiwanuka's music doesn't necessarily fall into one niche.
"It's a blend of folk music and soul music ... with hints of jazz - that's the simple way," he said when asked to describe his sound.
Watching the British singer perform live, it's clear his sound is far from simple. There's a complexity to it. He's backed by a lively band on stage, but it's in those moments when Kiwanuika stands alone, guitar in hand, when you really get a sense of his voice's raw, heartfelt authenticity.
Kiwanuka's love for music started at a young age while growing up in North London.
"You either play guitar and hang out, [or play] sports ... I kind of gravitated to music," Kiwanuka told CBSNews.com.
Kiwanuka borrowed CDs from friends and dusted Rolling Stones albums off his parents' shelves. Bob Dylan and Otis Redding were among his early influences.
"My parents are Ugandan but we grew up in a middle-class English town and we kind of stuck out, not in a bad way," Kiwanuka said before his show at New York's Highline Ballroom. "The music I was into, the stuff I was into was quite separate maybe from what people expected me to be into. Singing Bob Dylan was weird for a young black guy, basically. So I used to wrestle with that, but only in my own head."
By 16 years old, Kiwanuka found himself in studios across London, performing as a session guitarist and taking part in jam sessions.
Soon enough, Kiwanuka struck out on his own, releasing his first EP in 2011. In 2012, the full-length album, "Home Again," followed.
"My approach to songwriting is basically just whatever I'm feeling to come out really," Kiwanuka, 24, said. "So I might have a guitar riff I like and then if it feels a certain way I just put words to that."
Whatever Kiwanuka's approach is, it appears to be working.
The critically-acclaimed singer topped BBC's Sound of 2012 list, following in the footsteps of previous winners Adele (2008) and Corinne Bailey Rae (2006).
When asked why he thinks his music has resonated with fans, Kiwanuka stops for a moment, and says that perhaps it's because the lyrics center on "human emotions."
"So maybe that's what connected people with it," he said, adding, "It's just like hanging out with another buddy, or you can relate to a lot of those issues. That's why you relate to people."