Sydney Opera House, 27/05/17
Photos by Daniel Boud
As a part of Vivid 2017, a series of acts have been organised to perform across the length of the festival, including Nick Murphy, Camp Cope, and on Saturday; Sampha.
The UK singer-songwriter brings his unique brand of electronic music to Sydney for the first time, touring his hugely successful (and excellent) album Process. Though only his debut, Sampha has been a recognisable name for a few years now, especially in hip-hop circles; featuring twice on Drake’s 2013 album Nothing Was the Same, and more recently on Kanye’s ‘Saint Pablo’, and Solange’s A Seat at the Table. It’s easy to see why his music has such broad appeal, in particular with hip-hop acts, there’s a richness to his voice that just drips with emotion, and his instrumentals are layered and often just as touching. The way in which both compliment each other makes for some brilliant music. All this makes him the perfect fit for a seated, small show at the Sydney Opera House’s Drama Theatre.
He opens with a moody rendition of ‘Plastic 100℃’, in a mist of “magnetic lights in the blue-high haze” silhouetted completely. The first, and most powerful, thing you notice about Sampha is his breathtaking voice; simultaneously strong and commanding, as well as understated and reserved, which lets his performance shift between subtle and more heavy tones. This is followed by ‘Timmy’s Prayer’, a song that reflects on his emotional state during his mother’s battle with cancer. His lyrics are evocative and illustrative, and in the live dimension his presence gives them new weight. This is made so much more impactful by the Drama Theatre itself, being a seated venue mostly used for stage-plays and alike, the show has an incredibly intimate feel that just could not be replicated in a larger venue.
It’s during ‘Under’ that I really take notice of the brilliant percussion. There are two percussionists who manage to replicate completely the lush beats off Process. ‘Too Much’ draws an interesting reaction from the crowd, given that its sampling by Drake on his 2013 single of the same name brought Sampha to the attention of the mainstream. That being said, the song is completely his own.
The back-to-back of ‘Kora Sings’ and ‘Blood On Me’ is a well executed two-stroke, as the kinetic energy of the former lifts the same in the latter. Live, it has less of a paranoid feel, and is made richer by the detailed percussion, some of which is now performed by Sampha himself. For the final track of the main set, the band exits and leaves Sampha to perform one of the most sorrowful songs off the album, ‘No One Knows Me Like the Piano’. With just keys and his voice, this one track manages to encapsulate the themes of the album, and the show, into a few very sweet minutes.
To be honest, I was content to leave the show after this, I didn’t see how an encore could beat or further that final sorrowful performance. However, the encore of ‘Without’, with its percussion that brought the entire quartet together on one drum kit, was quite remarkable, and bookended the entire experience nicely.
It’s rare that after a concert all I want to do is listen to the performer’s music straight away, but in this case, Sampha’s live show has added another dimension to what was already one of this year’s best albums.