Sampha’s debut album was undoubtedly highly anticipated. After scoring features on songs by some of today’s big artistes, attention from major music websites and blogs turned to the British-Sierra Leonean, whose voice is as distinctive as the charm he brings to songs.
My first encounter with Sampha was on ‘Too Much’ off Drake’s 2013 album ‘Nothing Was The Same’. ‘Too Much’ was a song he had recorded and (un)fortunately, Drake and his team heard it, got enamoured and sampled. In-between 2013 when his voice reached millions of people to 2016, he went off radar (for lack of a better word). Sampha juggled between caring for his sick mother, occasionally releasing singles and going totally silent. He secured, however, spots on Frank Ocean’s ‘Alabama’, Saint Pablo by Kanye West and Solange’s amazing album ‘A Seat At the Table’ on the song ‘Don’t Touch My Hair’ and ‘Mine’ by Beyonce. (These first three individuals, Sampha credit as playing a significant role in him completing his album). Now, the world can enjoy in full, the amazing talent that is Sampha, thanks to Process.
Process, his major debut, is a 10 track full album (40 minutes long) that leans on pop, jazzy/soul and electro-pop. Process also showcase a bit of African rhythmic influences. Through these influences, Sampha and his voice meander through carefully crafted piano and drum patterned beats, mesmerizing and switching on the emotional pipe-of love, fear and loss in a calm yet sorrowful tone.
These themes – of love is amply captured on songs like the piano driven ‘Take Me Inside’, ‘Under’ and ‘Incomplete Kisses’-which fit the R&B ballads of the early 90s to mid-2000s. On the gospel toned ‘(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano’ (a standout track), ‘Timmy’s Prayer’, ‘Reverse Faults’ and ‘What Shouldn’t I Be? Sampha talks about losses-personal in nature like the hollowness and emotional rollercoaster the passing of his mum had inflicted on him.
‘Plastic 100C’ and ‘Blood On Me’ reflect a certain fear that Sampha is struggling to wrestle; to escape from. ‘Kora Sings’ like the title of the song carries an instrumentation steeped in Malian music tradition. The Kora and drum/percussion led song carries an up-tempo feel that would get you moving in rhythms (the percussion rained on the song sounds like an old Ghanaian highlife classic ‘Y3 Wo Adze’ by A.B. Crentsil. Don’t forget, Sampha was in Ghana in 2013 to work with Solange on her album and perhaps, it was during that time that he ‘stumbled’ on those rhythms).
Listening to Sampha, one notice how easy his voice convey his thoughts. His voice is absolutely soothing if not heavenly. It’s like a soft pillow on which you rest your head after a hard day’s stress. His songwriting talent is brilliant. He is very detailed in his descriptions and potent with one liners or phrases. Apart from the popular ‘No one knows me like the piano in my mother’s home’ phrase (on ‘No One Knows), lyrics such as ‘magnetic lights in a blue high haze/magnifying glass upon my face, it’s so hot I’ve been melting out here’ (Plastic 100C); and the opening line on ‘Blood On Me’ where he croons with panting fears ‘I crashed the whip, and street threw me, and you pulled me, and wiped my screen’ are detailed story writing that could cause Frank Ocean to raise a brow.
‘Under’ is also adorned with beautiful poetic phrasing ‘waves come crashing over me/I’m swimming in an open sea’ and ‘I’m still swimming in those eyes/ You made it rain like you owned the sky’. ‘Under’, sounds like the type of song The Weeknd would wish to have his name over it (with a touch of unapologetic debauchery). Tell me ‘my rib cage open my heart pulled out/I’ve lost another one’ is drenched in sorrow, even if masked. The bagpipe sound that lay beneath the song can’t be ignored.
Process has been described as ‘haunting’ and ‘grief laden’ by many. And they are not wrong considering the fact that, the loss of his mother was the clutch on which the album came to fruition. It is not the tone or inspiration behind the album-grief-that makes ‘Process’ amazing, soothing and gorgeous. It is more because it is honest riddled. It is very hard for an album borne from a place of unreserved honesty to be overlooked just like Frank Ocean’s ‘Channel Orange’ or Solange’s ‘ASATT’ or even Usher’s ‘Confessions’.
Process is Sampha’s major step at stepping away from the chamber of loss (‘challenges come and challenges go’) to the light of healing and happiness (you need to grow) as said on Process’ closing track ‘What Shouldn’t I Be?’