With a voice that has won comparisons to Bill Withers and Otis Redding, the fast-rising 24-year-old has already garnered plenty of crtical success and has even supported Adele on tour.
The Sound of 2012 list was compiled using tips from 184 key UK-based music critics, bloggers and broadcasters.
Others who rounded out the top five were Odd Future crooner Frank Ocean, from the US; foul-mouthed New York rapper Azealia Banks; superstar DJ Skrillex, from the US; and Swedish electronic duo Niki & The Dove.
Londoner Kiwanuka began his music career as a session guitarist, before getting in front of the mic and then signing to the Communion label, co-owned by Mumford and Sons’ Ben Lovett.
“It’s a great surprise and it means a lot that people are accepting the music they’ve heard so far, and it will bring the music to many more people, which for any musician is a great privilege,” Kiwanuka told the BBC.
The 184 tastemakers’ votes could be for musicians from any country and any musical genre.
Artists who had secured a UK top 20 single or album before November 13, 2011 were disqualified, as were those who were already had a high profile in the UK – due to being in a popular band or appearing on a TV talent show like the X Factor.
CHECK OUT NUMBER 2: FRANK OCEAN
CHECK OUT NUMBER 3: AZEALIA BANKS
CHECK OUT NUMBER 4: SKRILLEX
CHECK OUT NUMBER 5: NIKI & THE DOVE