The spotlight rarely hits Sampha during the entirety of tonight's performance (29 March), preferring a back-lit blanket of light that highlights his unmistakable silhouette. It's a reflection of his rise to fame over the last five years; a man whose commitment to producing music consistently outweighs his need for publicity.
Sampha Sisay has developed a notable reputation, known as the 'famous not-famous' vocalist and producer; in high demand yet almost unknown. This isn't an overstatement either, having been summoned by some of hip-hop and R&B's biggest names from Frank Ocean to Kanye, not to mention his work with UK contemporaries FKA twigs, SBTRKT and Jessie Ware. He’s a musician in the truest sense, not once appeasing the demand for the release of his highly-anticipated debut album Process.
Sampha’s performance at the Roundhouse represents the 28-year old Londoner's hometown gig of his world tour. Stepping out onto a low-lit midnight blue stage he exudes the confidence of a man who, while new to the numbers in the crowd, looks more than comfortable at centre-stage.
The performance demonstrates majestic contrast. The slower, stripped-back songs provide moments of introspection, an opportunity to be privy to Sampha’s vulnerable personal sphere. Yet in other songs we witness a spirited man dancing around a stage, arms flailing with infectious energy and enthusiasm.
As you might expect, he's a man of few words. After immediately confessing disbelief at the magnitude of the performance, he boldly states: "I'm just going to get on with it". Standing central behind two keyboards, Sampha is supported by players on a drum kit, drum-pads and another on synths/keys.
The show opens with a slow-build climaxing in the emphatic album-opener "Plastic 100°". Following this he’s straight out to the front of the stage, microphone in hand. As the first single off Process, the pulsating energy behind his performance of "Timmy's Prayer" is the first indication he plans on holding nothing back.
Sampha’s voice is an iconic breathy wonder, but you’d be forgiven for wondering if it manages to fill the room. Perhaps this is the aspect of the show that shines the brightest; you’re presented with blissful vocals, soft in quality but abundantly powerful in delivery. At no point is this clearer than when he steps across to the piano at the corner of the stage to play "Too Much". A song which has received an abundance of celebrity-propelled success is played with refreshing simplicity. Repeating those famous lines with eyes closed and head rocking, Sampha provides a masterclass in male falsetto.
Soon he’s back on his feet, taking us to a place of effortless energy as he performs his two most well-known upbeat songs. The four performers on stage proceed to stand up, each drumming their own part to "Kora Sings". It culminates in a magnificently curated chorus of punchy, yet dissectible, rim-clacks and bass thuds. He carries this momentum straight into his haunting second single "Blood on Me", on a stage awash with dark red.
Since the release of the critically-acclaimed Process, we've had more than a glimpse into Sampha’s personal life. It’s a reflective record that dives deep into some of the personal trauma he has experienced. This is most apparent in his performance of the heart-stopping "(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano". It's a song loaded with metaphor; having lost his father to cancer when he was young and his mother too less than two years ago, the piano represents one of the few things that remains constant in his life. As the song draws to a close, a solo golden bead of light rises slowly towards the ceiling from the piano, a testament to the spiritual symbolism.
The encore sees Sampha stood alongside his three accompanists around a drum kit, launching into an intricate performance of "Without". These closing moments reflect Sampha’s work in its entirety, a patient and sophisticated sound that prioritises quality over everything else.
Beneath the Tree
Take me Inside
Blood on Me
(No One Knows Me) Like The Piano