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Words Jay Fullarton (@jaymfullarton)

Ahead of the release of his stellar sophomore LP ‘Lahai’, Sampha blessed Hackney Church with a trio of intimate, immersive shows, previewing all of the most transcendental tracks from the new record.

In a time where musicians of the moment rush out three bloated releases a year, Sampha managed to dip away from the spotlight for nearly seven years and somehow still have everyone’s attention. Prior to the release of his new record, the secretive singer-songwriter came out of hiding for a sold-out trio of intimate performances at Hackney Church, bringing the fairytale sounds of Lahai to life with a full band and hundreds of fans tightly wound around a circular stage. Pangs of hunger for new Sampha couldn’t have been more gluttonous, so we were lucky enough to catch the final night of the limited run of shows; it was expectedly poignant and lowkey, but also surprisingly energetic, seasoning laidback soul with glitchy breaks and powerful harmonies.

Within the claustrophobic walls of the church, we were expecting to have to force our way to a good view of the Mercury-winning pianist and producer, but with his raised, round set up in the middle of the venue, you were guaranteed a decent spot. Sampha said the goal of the stage was to promote “synergy” and “freedom” amongst the band, which you could certainly feel through the innovative renditions of songs dating back to breakout tunes with SBTRKT and the decade-old ‘Dual’. Appearing slightly shy, albeit humbled, Sampha dove into a near non-stop, transcendent performance traversing his entire career, melding twinkling keys with tweaked synthesisers, and breathing euphoric rushes into barebone ballads. He set the tone for the evening with 'Plastic 100', the magnetic introduction to his stellar album Process, his swaying vocals sailing amongst harmonic group vocals before meddling into 'Hold On'.

'Satellite Business' was our first live taste of the new LP, engulfing the audience in a surreal soundscape full of flickering sci-fi synths and staccato, half-rapped mantras. 'Inclination Compass (Tenderness)' transported us to a higher plane with Sisay’s serene, youthful lullabies, seeming just as superb on stage as on wax. The highlight of the show, though, was 2013 track 'Without', as Sampha and his live band coiled around the drums, each member hammering away at the percussion, transforming the soulful beat into a striking symphony. It felt irresistibly collaborative and immersive.

After toying around with synthesisers and transitioning into the spacey, syncopated sounds of 'Spirit 2.0', the lead single off Lahai, the band stepped away, allowing stripped-back solo performances of '(No One Knows Me) Like The Piano' and 'Too Much'. The former, despite being his biggest track, saw the audience completely hushed, allowing him to perform the heartwrenching ballad dedicated to his mother. It was one of many sincere, touching moments in the set, much like the wounded rendition of 'Can’t Get Close', which saw Nilüfer Yanya and Obongjayar, amongst others, joining the stage to harmonise under dimmed lights. On previous nights, Stormzy had come on stage as a surprise guest too.

Two of the most fun and lively cuts off Lahai, 'Only' and 'Dancing Circles', were a well-needed respite from the driving drums and mournful melodies. As Sampha paraded around the stage awkwardly dancing, everyone joyously joined in - except the miserable guy in a suit stood next to me who didn’t smile or nod his head throughout the entire show. But, the momentum continued to grow massively during the shows closing moments. 'Can’t Go Back' showed off cinematic, orchestral jungle beats, whilst 'Blood On Me' was a colossal closer, with the pounding drums ricocheting off the walls of the church, and each member of the band giving a stadium-worthy performance amidst Sampha’s falsetto cries.

My only real nitpick for the entire show is that it needed a few more gems from his already brief catalogue. 'Indecision' and 'Happens' would have given Sampha more time to flex his honeyed vocals, and electronic-infused Process highlights like 'Kora Sings' and 'Reverse Faults' would’ve added more diversity to the concert. Their absences do make sense though, considering the progression Sampha goes through on Lahai - graduating from grief to fatherhood, and progressing from mourning to moving forward. Seeing Sampha perform these new tracks in a spiritual, small-scale venue was special, and to hear Lahai in all its glory is something that will be burned into my memory for decades.

Lahai is available now via Young/XL Recordings. Sign up for pre-sale for his Alexandra Palace show here.


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