Sampha live in London: A special homecoming for one of the industry’s most revered talents

Sampha performing at London's Alexandra Palace

A gig at Alexandra Palace is an occasion, both for audience and artist.

At over 10,000 capacity, it’s one of London’s biggest venues, reserved for show-stopping acts… and the darts. It’s also so far out of anyone’s way that the trek up the hill, especially on an unseasonably crisp evening in late April when the sun is still just setting over the city, now visible from one end to the other and almost graspable in its entirety, feels like it merits a reward in the form of solid entertainment.

Notorious for rarely playing live, Sampha’s headline show feels doubly special. He is just back from a North American headline tour and this homecoming performance is the only UK date he’s playing.

Opening on ‘Suspended‘ from last year’s album Lahai, the quality and musicality of him and his band is undeniable from the off. Through the next few songs, Sampha is easing into himself, clearly talented but lacking comfort onstage as yet. This comes when he gets to a three-song run of ‘Plastic 100℃‘, SBTRKT‘s ‘Hold On‘ and Lil Silva‘s ‘Still‘, bringing out both Lil Silva and Ghetts for the latter.

The stage production itself is far from theatrical, but its simplicity draws the different musical elements together. A cameraman follows Sampha around as he skips from synth to keyboard, to self-playing Yamaha before standing alone in front of his band singing to the audience, focusing in on the multitudinous strings on his bow.

A drum circle emerges around Sampha for a spectacularly reimagined version of ‘Without‘. As the set progresses into familiar territory, into ‘Spirit 2.0’ and a beautifully reworked ‘(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano‘, Sampha relaxes, on his turf now, with his crowd so fully behind him.

Little Simz X Sampha

As if Lil Silva and Ghetts weren’t enough, Sampha also has the likes of Little Simz and Jessie Ware waiting in the wings, for ‘Satellite Business‘ and ‘Valentine‘ respectively. The final third of the set is a stark, confident reminder of just how much of the contemporary music scene he has single-handedly crafted: he does an almost medley of Kendrick Lamar‘s ‘Father Time’, Kanye‘s ‘Saint Pablo’ and Solange‘s ‘Don’t Touch My Hair’.

One glance down his extensive list of credits, which, aside from the above, also includes Beyonce, Frank Ocean, James Blake, Travis Scott and Drake, is evidence enough of this. Sampha would have every right to be a little bit pleased with himself, but in place of braggadocious swagger, there is humility and gratitude at every turn. He takes several opportunities to thank the musicians on stage with him, and after every guest comes out and clearly fawns over him, he thanks them with a bow of his head and clasped hands.

Filtering out into the night after a closer of ‘Blood on Me’ and an encore of ‘Can’t Get Close‘, it feels, paradoxically, as though we have witnessed something very private and intimate, albeit with all the ecstasy and transportation that a shared musical experience brings.

There is a reason why Sampha is so revered in the industry: he is obviously someone who has the chops and doesn’t feel the need to shout about it; he just gets on with his craft and does it masterfully. To have seen this live performance, actually, to have seen it and experienced it, feels unfathomable, rarely special. Evidence of someone who is not at the top of their game right now, but has been there all along.

featured image: Patrick Gunning via Alexandra Palace

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