By Setota Hailemariam
With temperatures on Feb. 8 hitting 70 degrees, two things are for sure: global warming is real and we’re all going to die.
With that being said, it was only right for Sampha to grace the 9:30 Club stage that night — the universe was clearly letting only the most out of the ordinary happenings occur. Sampha’s departure from the ordinary, though, simply came from his raw talent, making him unlike any performer I’ve ever witnessed.
There was a huge crowd turnout even before doors at 9:30 opened, which speaks volumes about the devotion of his fanbase. The mainstream public, however, is surprisingly unaware of the London-hailing soul singer, even though he’s worked with big names like Drake, Frank Ocean and Solange.
Floyd Godsey, 27, spoke to this fact: “I think this will be a year he’ll get really noticed, but it’ll be interesting to see what he does after this … a lot of people still kind of don’t really know who he is.”
To those who were already acquainted with Sampha’s tunes, he couldn’t come out fast enough. The opener, Mal Devisa, played a short, moody set, in which the only accompaniments were herself on the guitar and bass drum. Her quirky solos like “Live Again” and “Daisy” were interesting enough, but the main attraction had yet to arrive.
When he finally did, it was chaos. The audience erupted into cheers from the opening notes of “Plastic 100°C,” a track from his new record, Process. The down-to-earth artist, clad in a shirt that read “peacemaker,” flashed a shy smile, as if he couldn’t believe the response he was getting.
If there was one thing I couldn’t believe, it was how he managed to sound exactly the same live as he does on his records. And, on top of that, how he managed to hit the notes at the same time as he danced around stage (during “Reverse Faults”), or as he played around with electronic samples at his synthesizer (“Under”).
There was never a dull second on stage as he cleverly balanced high energy moments with slowed-down, wistful selections like “Too Much,” arguably his biggest hit. With its irresistible hook, it was the biggest sing-along of the show, as there was generally an unspoken agreement in the audience to just relax and let Sampha stick to singing.
You constantly got the sense that you were watching something fresh being created, especially during the songs “Incomplete Kisses” and “Kora Sings.” Both were performed with so much vitality and heart, they sounded like whole new pieces, even though the instrumentation didn’t stray too far from what appeared on the album. A seemingly spontaneous jam session broke out at one point between Sampha and his backing band, and it pretty much captured the essence of the show as a whole: the power and purity of live music.
The last official songs of the set were opposites energy-wise, but fit well next to one another. “Blood On Me” was an emotionally-charged display; “(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano,” on the other hand, was a stripped-down ode to the instrument he holds dearest and felt almost like sitting in on an intimate conversation, especially since his band members left the stage.
As Sampha struck the final chords, it began to sink in that the night was nearly over. A few crowd members began chanting for an encore before he had even exited. Their enthusiasm made an impression on him, no doubt, as he came back to play not one, but two songs: “Without” and “Indecision”, both from his previous EP Dual.
“He’s such a humble artist, I think he’s always going to have a cult following,” C. Harris, 33, says. That humility was so apparent all throughout the show, from his thanking the audience after every song to his look of awe, almost disbelief, at the ovation he received at the end of the night.
Masterful art without any trace of pretension is what Sampha does best, and his loyal fans are sure to stick with him on his rise to the top.
Featured Photo Credit: Feature photo courtesy of Sampha on Facebook.
Setota Hailemariam is a freshman journalism major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.