Sampha – Process (Young Turks)


Process is the much-anticipated debut album by Sampha Sisay, a 28-year-old Londoner who has lent his voice in recent years to recordings by Solange, Drake, Kanye West and Frank Ocean. Now after a couple of EPs, he’s finally ready to step out front and centre on his own.

Sampha’s EPs were release 2010 and 2013 and this long player has been in the works for over three years. Unfortunately, progress on Process ground to a halt when Sampha’s mother passed away in 2015 after battling cancer.

The death of his mother, and to a lesser extent, his father, who died in 1998, hangs over the 10 songs on this album like a shroud. In fact, Sampha, who is the youngest of five sibling seems to have fashioned something of a concept album with the songs documenting a sort of journey that finds the artist feeling lost and abandoned and they realizing, as the lyric states on the final track, What Shouldn’t I Be?, that ‘you can always come home’.

Plastic 100°C starts the set with electronic beeps, what sounds like an astronaut and some glistening music. Sampha’s soulful voice is heard over a tinkling piano, ‘It’s so hot I’ve been melting out here’, then, later, ‘Houston…can you hear?’ As the song progresses, it’s clear the singer is struggling with something. ‘I didn’t really know what that lump was’, he reveals, indicating that his own mortality may be something he’s pondering as well as those around him.

Musically, most tracks are either built on an understated electro beat or a piano, as is the case with the album’s most immediately accessible song, the autobiographical (No One Knows Me) Like The Piano, a track that found me thinking of Terence Trent D’Arby and an edgier John Legend.

Most of the other tracks take some time to acclimate to. Sampha uses unconventional song structures and there are few, if any, “hooks”, to draw the listener in…just that stunning voice and those deeply-moving lyrics.

Yes, it may take some to fully appreciate what Sampha and his co-producer Rodaidh McDowell have created here, but I can assure you it will be time well spent.

Marty Duda

Sampha performs in Auckland at The Studio on Wednesday, May 24th.