Sampha – O2 Institute, Birmingham (26th March 2017)

“This is my first time playing in Birmingham. I don’t know if you know, but I kinda released an album recently. So basically, I’m just going to get on with it.” And that’s exactly what Sampha did. He got on with an amazing musical showcase. His performance was a confident display of his musicianship. Collaborative and isolated all within the space of an hour and a half.

Everyone knows how good Sampha is. He has featured on so many big artist’s music in recent years, it is hard to keep track. This is what he is best known for; being good pals with some of music’s elite and featuring on their tracks. However, at the beginning of last month he released his widely anticipated solo album. It did not disappoint. He proved that he could produce the volume of work to make an entire album interesting. This has extended to his live performances.

His catalogue of work aside, it is important to stress just how incredible Sampha’s voice actually is. The clarity and projection of his vocal sound is as good, if not even better than his studio work. He annunciates so clearly. This gives his voice a piercing quality – especially when he holds louder, longer notes. Its uniqueness is obviously something that has brought his fame, but it lends itself so perfectly to live performance. The best display of how vocally imperious Sampha is, was the performance of ‘Plastic 100’. Even the most stern faced in attendance showed visible signs of awe.

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The show was not just about Sampha as in individual. Sampha’s supporting band deserve a huge amount of praise; they display of incredible musicianship. The supporting trio, lay the platform for Sampha to really exhibit his individual strengths. Collaboratively they are in perfect synch. The show has been well rehearsed, and everyone knows their roles with all the added embellishments that make a good live show great were evident.

There is intelligent multiplicity to Sampha’s support. There were two forms, sometimes up to all four sets of percussion, plus two sets of keys. All these elements came together and created an impressive depth of sound quality to the performance. The drummer, Pauli, deserves extra kudos. He seamlessly laid the platform for everything that took place; not only since he was also the warm up act but also because of his flawless drumming. He played the difficult offbeat syncopated rhythms so casually. Most importantly it allowed Sampha himself to display some incredible percussion. Think afrobeat Fela Kuti, and you’re basically there.

However, the climax of the percussion was in the encore. For this final act, Sampha and played an intricate piece called ‘Without’. After performing nearly all of his music from his recent solo album, Sampha went back to his debut single. It was a reminder that he has a repertoire outside of ‘Process’ and that the percussive undertones have been present in his work for a while.

If the percussion was hugely inclusive, Sampha took moments to show how exclusive he can be. During the gig his band members left the stage and he was left with his piano to perform his feature on Drake’s ‘Too Good’. It was as if he was performing in your living room. These moments offered a contrast to the expansive electronic based tracks which featured throughout the show. A continuation of Sampha’s work with Sbtrkt. Whilst this was intimate and moving, it was nothing compared to the second part of the encore. Another solo performance – this time of ‘(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano’. Very fitting since it was Mothering Sunday. However, for Sampha it was even more poignant as his mother died after a battle with cancer last December.

Sampha’s live performance was a display of multiplicity. He is a man of man talents. And his well thought out show, exhibits them so perfectly. He is an impressive collaborator and this carries over with his own band. But most importantly his main ambition is to show he is the main man. He wants to shake the idea that he is just an impressive featuring artist. Imposing in a good sense – the live show is an exhibition of his own talents.