Few artists get as much attention as Sampha has gotten in the past few years. Thankfully, he has the talent and character to back it up. Sampha has grown from a producer and frequent collaborator of artists including (but certainly not limited to) SBTRKT, Drake, and Kanye West into an amazing solo artist. His debut album Process definitely proves that as Sampha steers his voice through incredibly personal lyrics full of pain, love, and rediscovery. Embarking on his first tour in support of Process, Sampha, along with Mal Devisa, came to Metro with a pair of short and sweet sets that will stay warm in attendees minds for a long time.
Mal Devisa, the solo pseudonym of Deja Carr, was able to get her set going after a few momentary of audio setbacks. She stood by herself at the side of the stage with a guitar around her neck, a bass drum and loop at her feet. Her low and raw voice is immediately reminiscent of Nina Simone or Billie Holiday and when mixed with her minimalistic setup packs incredible punch. Those comparisons are felt on every song, but are especially powerful on “Sea of Limbs”, where Carr’s cadence carries the track. It’s a devastatingly beautiful song that was a standout of her set. “Fire”, the first song on her album Kiid, also broke through with the crowd. Her blaring question and subsequent declaration “Does it kill you to know that we’re all dying? It kills me to know” echoed with such brilliant force, demanding the crowd’s attention.
Carr, quickly waved and thanked the crowd for their attentiveness but they yelled for one more. She looked around and obliged, prefacing that she’ll do it if she could manage to get the loop pedal at her feet to start working with her guitar. After a quick moment, Mal Devisa delivered her most raw and intense song of the nigh. She slapped and yelled at her guitar strings with a furious snarls that elicited these low angry sounds to come through the amps. “They can’t take it away ” she cried in to the microphone as her guitar looped on ” a monument for those kids who look like me.” It was an empowering and downright amazing way to end her time on stage.
Bathed in a dark blue light, Sampha and his band started their set with electronic rumble the slowly emerged as “Plastic 100°C”. The song has his voice ebbing and flowing with meditative skill that is heard throughout his work. Sampha looked purposefully lost in aura of the song while his finger tips glided around his keyboard with effortless ease. He followed that up with the equally impressive “Timmy’s Prayer”, keeping the cool atmosphere going. His songs make you want to just close you eyes and immerse yourself in the ethereal vibes. It was a great start to the set, really setting the table for the moving performance that would come.
Sampha’s set stuck to his solo work, mostly selecting songs from his full length debut Process. This resulted in a very short set, just barely reaching the end of an hour. It was honestly a little odd that it was so short considering his wide reaching work in features, covers, and collaboration (particularly his songs with SBTRKT). While it may seem like I’m harping on the shortness of Sampha’s set, it’s truly due to the wonder inherent in his performance. Sampha’s cool and calm demeanor drew people in as much as his pristine voice. He could have played for as long as he wanted and not lost a single person.
Sampha’s songs have an undeniable force within them that attracts people to them. It’s largely due to his simple but poignant lyricism that he delivers with perfect finesse. Take for instance the pair of love songs that he played in the middle of his set, “Happens” and “Too Much”. The songs are complimentary singles, with “Happens” of losing love and wanting to recoup it and “Too Much” dealing with the pressures of overthinking in a relationship. Sampha’s performance here is so heartfelt that the song’s universal feelings are amplified. The crowd seemed to have hit a stride during these song and while I’m sure it partly has to do with Drake heavily sampling “Too Much” for his own version, Sampha’s original shines brightest.
Sampha ended the night with a three song cycle that encapsulated everything that makes him unique and immensely entertaining. “Kora Sings” has him and the band at their most worldly sound, mixing in international sounds into Sampha’s pristine voice. The energy follows along gracefully into “Blood on Me” that is likely Sampha most expressive and volatile song. The song speaks of trauma and the anxiety that comes with moving past it, which is reflected in the way he performs the song. It’s haunting yet rhythmically entrancing song, bringing Sampha out from behind his setup and to the edge of the crowd, instilling the songs intensity. Coming down from that breathtaking performance would take a lot, but he managed it with “(No One Knows Me Like) The Piano”. This is Sampha at his most moving and endearing, serenading the crowd with his beautiful ballad. It’s a thankful embrace for his piano’s existence and ability to get him through difficult times. Its quiet, tender, and the most stark expression of Sampha’s vocal talents.
For his encore, Sampha and band returned and huddled around a drum kit at the side of the stage. They each grabbed a pair of sticks and began slowly creating a beat that melded together in a wonderful tapestry. It sounded full and intricate, building up the soundscape to a magnificent peak that would never settled down even as they returned to their spots. Sampha then let the emotional lyrics of “Without” pour out. The lights changed hues and the crowd knew that this would be the end of the show. Sampha had left his inimitable mark the crowd and as he sang “I’m just glad that you’re here, here, here” to the mesmerized crowd, I couldn’t but think that the feeling was mutual.