Photos of Sampha taken by Texas Isaiah for Okayplayer.
Blue light engulfs Sampha and his three piece multidimensional ensemble. They are welcomed with screams, cheers and a rousing applause. He begins the show with a dark, dreamy introduction to “Plastic 100°C”. Light and feathery with deep ethereal chords, the audience is immediately entranced. You can sense and see his excitement to perform as he gently rocks side to side with beads of sweat beginning to materialize on his forehead and face.
Sampha’s voice is strong and delicate. Both bluesy and soulful, full of life and agony, his husky rich tonation encapsulates a story. A story he is revealing to the audience, administering a spiritual experience. What we, the assembly, may consider to be on the wave of a R&B ballad or slow jam is obviously so much more to Sampha. It is an expression of grief, passion and growth.
The instrumentation he has selected is untraditional. There is an additional keyboardist (J Spirit Fingers), a drummer on the Roland SPD (Ben Walker) and a drummer on a kit and pads (opener PAULi). It is a merging of the electronic and analog world in an intent & sincere fashion. The lighting is fantastic, creating a scenescape to carry the force of the music, lyrics and intentional silence, teleporting the audience into a Sampha haven.
One of the highlights of Sampha’s performance is not only his vulnerability but also his enjoyment of being vulnerable. There are a number of songs where Sampha excuses the band for an intimate testimony including “Too Much” and a stirring rendition of “(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano”. Reverb only adds to his angelic voice. He truly engages while performing and the audience receives him with open arms, ears and hearts.
During “Kora Sings,” every band member gets on a percussive instrument and jams the hell out. They do an amazing transition about half way into the song bringing everyone back to their perspective instrumentation. It’s a brotherly love affair onstage and their energy feeds one another.
When Sampha and band return to the stage for an encore, they all gather around a single kit comprised of a tom, snare, cymbal and a timbale and let loose. This jam builds for about a minute before any vocals come in. Similar to the “Kora Sings” arrangement, each member (this time one by one) returns to their perspective instruments to continue to build the song. It’s incredibly astounding and an engaging arrangement especially since Sampha is very well-known for his melodic sensibility.
Overall Sampha’s live show is a spiritual experience. He is kind, charming and endearing. Perhaps a key example of what Kendrick Lamar is referencing in terms of being humble. There is no unjust hype here. His skill is undeniable and his live show only amplifies his recorded interpretations.
Catherine Harris-White is a Seattle-based singer + producer under the name SassyBlack. Her work as a freelancer can be seen in Crack Magazine and The Seattle Weekly. You can follow her latest + greatest on Twitter @SassyBlack_.