Sampha: Best Experienced Alone

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I have a habit of walking into gigs just as the main act is about to come on. I like to describe my timing as impeccable. The upside is that I slip in, enjoy myself, and I’m the first one out the door. There’s a big downside though. Everyone knows that the hard core fans at the front is where it’s at. Standing at the back my whole life, I’ve envied the go getters who have a close up view.

 

" I’ve never seen such an eclectic crowd. It’s like all the kids in the playground have put their differences aside to join together for a bigger cause "

It seems like tonight is the night I won’t wish for the gods to make me just a few inches taller. It’s 7:30pm and I’m already in the circular stalls of the Roundhouse. In the past I’ve experienced this place mushed shoulder to shoulder with strangers and the inevitable mosh pits. This time, a small crowd is dotted around. It’s calm, and makes me reconsider my usual timings.

I’ve never seen such an eclectic crowd. It’s like all the kids in the playground have put their differences aside to join together for a bigger cause. This is exactly how I imagined Sampha’s listeners to be. His style, flow, production, lyricism naturally doesn’t invite one type of listener.

In the moments before the supporting act, the stage fills with fog. And then, a wild PAULi appears. The performance combines mist, confusion and mystery. The stage an exceptional display into his mind, as the accompanying mist bellows and he delves into his deepest thoughts, with lyricism that tugs at the throat. Now and then he returns to earth, with beats that send electric waves into the crowd. The crowd, now inspired and riled up, settle in wait for Sampha.

" Sampha’s shadow is unmistakable, having accompanied many of his visuals "

The technicians, with flashlights around their necks, test the mics. Then move on to drums and make sure to plug in all the necessary things. For a long time, about thirty minutes, there’s detailed preparation and an antsy energy in the crowd. Wanting the show to begin, but ultimately knowing that the wait always makes the performance that much sweeter.

 I glance around and notice a young boy with his black north face jacket, zipped all the way up. His eyes don’t move from the stage. In all my years of going to gigs solo, I rarely see others that are there alone. I guess it’s because traditionally it’s something to do with mates. I can’t imagine going to Sampha with people. Maybe it’s my hermit side speaking, but it’s one of those things I couldn’t possibly share.

The time has come. The lights fade, as the band walks out. Sampha’s shadow is unmistakable, having accompanied many of his visuals. The cheering begins as soon as we catch a glimpse. Now beaming at the audience, I notice his comforting smile. If humble was a picture, Sampha’s face would be plastered in the dictionary. Then, he lets the music speak for him.

It’s a surreal feeling, hearing songs that I’ve connected with deeply in the comfort of my space, now amplified into absolute bops. Classic instrumentals from Dual are remixed into versions that showcase each cord, each key in a fantastical display that aims to get the people going. And it does. The energy is unmatched as the crowd sing every word without missing a beat. Each song takes on its own renewed energy.

He moves from the centre of the stage, to the corner, where a grand piano sits. The only light comes from a small bulb which hangs above. His fingers caress the keys, and a smooth melody begins. As soon as the melody is recognisable, there are hoots and cheers. Too Much and No one knows me like the piano are played without changing a single note, with the stage stripped back to focus on Sampha’s vocals alone.

 


" In his reserved style, he thanks us, and simply leaves. As if he hasn’t just inspired an arena "

 

The same comforting smile appears again, when Sampha thanks the audience, clasping his hands together. And then he leaves the stage. Excited screams for an encore begin and soon he makes a reappearance, as the beat for Without sends the crowd into a frenzy. The quiet contemplation of Without disappears completely.  Still, with all the drums and funk, the emotion is not lost.

In his reserved style, he thanks us, and simply leaves. As if he hasn’t just inspired an arena. And as I’m leaving for the cloakroom, I’m convinced of one thing. Sampha is best experienced alone.

Originally published on 10th April 2017

Aroob Sajjad