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Miguel’s ‘War & Leisure’ Marries Sex, Sensuality & Social Consciousness

Enchanting — the very first word that I can honestly think of to describe the very allure of Miguel. The lights had began to dim as I stood a few feet into the center of the crowd. The space at Pioneer Works in Red Hook–an industrial Brooklyn neighborhood–held close to 200 with all eyes forward as the singer sauntered to the mic, greeted by applause and the intro chords to ‘Criminal’.

Photo by Vijat Mohindra/PAPER

This is track one from his debut album, War & Leisure, a collection that already showcases Miguel’s love for fuzzy, funky guitar strokes to house is soul/rock vocals. To the keen ear and open mind, the music taps into a message of unity with sex and sensuality as the vessel. This avenue has been travelled by legends like Lenny Kravitz (who has been featured on Miguel’s 2015 album, Wildheart) and Prince–which would only imply that to have perfected the sound sex-tinged social consciousness, Miguel would have to tap into the spirit of his predecessors. And boy, did he deliver.

Whether it’s on the poetic riff-filled ‘Anointed’ or the R&B red-light banger ‘Come Through and Chill’ featuring former collaborator, J. Cole, Miguel’s songwriting calls to mind vivid imagery–in which the abstract meets the literal and the NSFW.

War & Leisure album cover

At his Spotify pop-up concert, Miguel alluded to the inspiration for this album, mentioning that he had to do “a lot of writing and a lot of thinking”. References were made to our current political climate, and how maintaining positivity in our current state of “madness” is key. He finally blanketed the space with the comfort of his own desires, assuring us that everything he could have ever wanted was “right here”.

There’s an approachable air to Miguel, he’s an artist who is very candid about his weaknesses and vulnerabilities, yet he displays a resilience through his creativity that leaves his audience in admiration of his talent. His videos for this era seem to unravel a more politically-charged man on a mission. In ‘Sky Walker’ which features Travis $cott, it’s all about the good life; the video accompanying the lead single pans seamlessly through a super fun house party and Miguel gets to show off how exactly to sky walk.

Then there’s the video for ‘Told You So’, which is far more uptempo, light and doused in the influence of his aforementioned predecessors. It juxtaposes the seriousness of American warfare and American freedom; the camera jumps from Miguel’s eclectic dance moves to shots of protests and missile launches, and in some cases, even splices the footage.

As Miguel exhibits his own personal growth and development on War & Leisure, there’s also an obvious change in the delivery of his social commentary. It seems more marketable for artists to practice escapism, to use their powers to create worlds for their audiences in which unpleasant realities do not exist. But the focus for Miguel now more than ever seems to be to inspire. The video for the final song on the 12-track album, ‘Now’, was filmed at the singer’s live performance at a #SchoolsNotPrisons benefit concert in California.

In a direct message to the “CEO of the free world”, immigrants from Mexico, Haiti and Central America share their thoughts and experiences on systemic oppression within our borders. Miguel sings of integrity and unity in the midst of constant unrest.

There’s an unapologetic-ness to Miguel’s existence, and a freedom in his music that has always been dazzling and dizzying. His longevity is set in stone, simply because he creates art that is both true to self and relevant to now. His live shows offer a new level of inviting that even his studio albums can’t reach. Still, his music fills a void in today’s generation only it can. And hopefully it continues to for a very long time.

War & Leisure is available now.