Headlining Manchester for the first time in nearly seven years, the Mercury Prize-winning artist Sampha performs in-the-round at Aviva Studios, in celebration of his second album, LAHAI.
From UK breakout star to global icon, Sampha’s influence is felt throughout contemporary culture. Across a studied career, the south London songwriter and producer has been at the heart of many era-defining records, his inimitable voice called upon by everyone from Kendrick Lamar to Stormzy, Drake to Solange, Frank Ocean to Kanye West. But it was his first solo album, Process, that Sampha’s own story was told to the world. And the world listened closely.
Navigating self-discovery while engulfed in the shadows of grief and loss, Process won the 2017 Mercury Prize, its cerebral take on R&B and soul finding a meeting place between the harrowing and the beautiful. From the thread-bare ballad ‘(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano’ to the heavy, club-leaning ‘Blood On Me’, it did what all great albums do – it built an individualistic world to get lost in.
Process set a hell of a high bar, but 2023’s follow-up easily meets it. Rather than a soundtrack to self-discovery, LAHAI is the sound of acceptance, finding joy in the human condition. A communal affair featuring contributions from some of Sampha’s closest friends, peers and collaborators, the new record sees the artist explore the many ways in which we as humans connect to each other, and to something bigger than ourselves.
Full of unexpected turns and stylistic switches, the album spans jazz, soul, rap, dance, jungle and west African music. Its first single, ‘Spirit 2.0’, feels like a segue out of Process, gently anguished but pushing towards the feeling of transcendence that characterises LAHAI. Its follow-up ‘Only’ finds Sampha back at the piano, newly energised as he spits melodically over a fragmented, hip hop hued beat co-produced by El Guincho.
Another album highlight comes with the luscious, vocally layered ‘Suspended’. There’s alchemy going on between its kinetic piano line, skittering drum’n’bass beat and breathy, bruised falsetto, tied together with incredibly intricate production. The Steve Reich-esque piano on ‘Dancing Circles’ is something new, and again the production shines, building tension to match lyrics about a long-awaited reunion.
And a long-awaited reunion is exactly what Sampha’s two shows in Manchester represent. It was way back in 2017 that he last headlined a show in the city (at Albert Hall for MIF17). But beyond the time that’s elapsed since his last performance, these shows promise to be special standalone events, staged in-the-round in Aviva Studios’ Warehouse space to enhance the audience’s connection with this highly personal music.
One of only two UK stops on Sampha’s 2024 tour, these shows are sure to sell out, so get on tickets fast if you want to guarantee a spot.