Sampha Debuts First Full Album, “Process”


Jon Elbaz

UK producer SBTRKT and his collaborator Sampha perform at the 2012 Bonnaroo Music Festival which was held from June 7 to June 10, 2012 in Manchester, Tennessee // Photo courtesy of Jon Elbaz

You have been cordially invited by Sampha to embark upon a journey of meditative growth and self-discovery through his euphonious vocals, piano, striking lyrics and the marriage of electronic, soul and R&B music.

After years of maintaining a low profile in the public eye, Sampha Sisay premiered his first full album “Process” on February 3, 2017 cut by Young Turks, recorded partially in his hometown London and partially at Ocean Sound Recordings on the Norwegian Island, Giske.

Sam Bernhardt, a junior and Jazz Guitar major, noted that this type of music is not normally the genre he gravitates towards because of where it may fall on the pop music spectrum. He defined pop as following a traditional songwriting structure and contemporary trends.

“However, intra-genre mastery and inter-genre innovation are both admirable qualities, and I think that Sampha’s songwriting really wonderfully ties together his heavily produced electronic elements and acoustic piano playing,” Bernhardt said.

Bernhardt recommends listening to Benjamin Clementine because they share certain similarities with the acoustic piano and songwriting style while employing his voice as the central instrument.

Upon releasing “Process,” the album achieved its peak positions at #51 on US Billboard 200, #21 on US Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums and #7 on UK Albums.

A British singer, songwriter and producer, Sisay began to gain public recognition through his collaborations over the last years with SBTRKT, Drake, Kanye West, Solange and countless others.

In “Process,” Sampha’s intuition guides him to distinguish the proper time to allow himself to be heated, impassioned and direct while gracefully selecting the moments to dial back to maintain the audience’s interest. He is consistent throughout the album with his uniform apprehensive, poetic, love-sick theme while maintaining his innate fervor.

Sampha embodies a nature of shyness in both his music and daily life which provides an emotional potency that bonds beautifully with his passionate vocals.

He commenced his musical journey when he was 3-years old after his father bought him a piano as incentive to keep him from being too enthralled in television. What his father did not know at the time was that this would set the stage for his son’s passion for music. Similarly, that piano would apply to him finding peace when his father died from lung cancer in 1998, followed by his mother several years later in 2015.

The heartache he paints for us in this album revolves around his journey of coping with the grief of taking care of his mother throughout her battle with cancer up until she died in 2015.

Caleb Anderson, a junior and political science and biology major, expressed that the album in its entirety stimulates feeling that many concept pieces today attempt but do not accomplish. He claimed that Sampha tactfully provokes the listener to experience sadness, anger and anxiety while masterfully pairing those emotions with the desperate grasp for happiness, hope and nostalgia. Anderson noted that Sampha was particularly successful with this in the track, “(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano.”

“His jazzy voice and intuitive use of inflection entrances the listener into a feeling of deep and complex emotion, having us both empathize with the sadness brought on by a lack of human connection in the modern world, but grateful for the expressive outlet still available,” Anderson said.

In the fourth song on the album, “(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano,” Sampha expresses his relationship to his roots and his piano through a confessional ballad, exposing his most vulnerable self to his listeners. This song is incredibly worth noting from the album because it differs stylistically from almost every song featured and provides background to the recent loss of his mother and how he commenced his musical prowess.

The lyrics read, “No one knows me like the piano in my mother’s home. You would show me I have something, some people call a soul. And you drop-topped the sky, oh you arrived when I was 3-years-old.”

Though he maintains a consistent overall theme regarding the content in this debut album, he by no means produced a repetitive sound throughout the tracks. In utilizing a wide array of instruments, both acoustic and electronic, he intrigues the audience with his inconsistent tempos and ranging expression of emotion. He provides effective and unexpected instrumental and mood shifts throughout the album.

Donovan Duvall ‘16 expressed how impressed he was with the diversity of the sonic textures Sampha crafted in this album. He described the album as rewarding and that it gives more and more with each listen.

“He’s definitely crafting his own sound, so I’m excited to see how he explores that sound further,” said Duvall.

Duvall also noted that if you like Sampha, audiences should consider listening to Nick Hakim, Gabriel Garzón Montano and Emily King.

Exposing his rawest self, Sampha offers us the front seat on the voyage to navigate how to move forward after immense loss. He provides us with solace in showing us that we are capable of producing beauty from our own individual darkness by welcoming us into his.

If you do not feel moved to delve into the album’s entirety, the most popular pieces on the album include “Plastic 100ºC,” “Blood on Me,” “(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano” and “Timmy’s Prayer.”