The R&B genius who turned pain into art (and collaborated with Kendrick Lamar)

What you need to know:

And now in A Tu Playlist from Sopitas.com we talk to you in detail about Sampha, one of the great geniuses of current R&B.

Music is balm for broken souls, that’s for sure. And there are certain artists who understand this concept of healing; to channel the pain and vent it through art, even if the process takes time. One of these artists is Sampha.

The die-hard lovers of hip-hop and R&B will have already found it with more presence the credits he has earned in production alongside high-profile artistsnot to mention the two great albums he has currently released.

But if you don’t have him on your radar: believe us, we’re talking about one of the great creative minds of recent years. An artist that some would consider niche and who certainly deserves more attention than he already gets. In this episode of A Tu Playlist x Sopitas we discuss what makes Sampha so great.

Who is Sampha and how did he approach music?

Her right name is Sampha Lahai Sisay and was born in 1988 as the last of five siblings. His parents were immigrants from Sierra Leone who came to London in the early 1980s when Joe, his father, who devoted himself to jewelry appreciation, found a new job on British soil.

Not only had the Sisay family found a place in the English capital where they had a better chance of getting ahead in the face of the corruption caused by the diamond trade in their country of origin… Looking back, in 1991, just three years later the Sisay was born as an artist , A civil war broke out in Sierra Leone, claiming more than 50,000 lives and thousands of refugees.

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The situation in Sierra Leone forced Sampha’s parents to emigrate to England. Photo: Getty.

Music was very present for the young Sampha, who from an early age was drawn to the piano – after all, his favorite instrument – which his parents had installed in their home in Morden. His love for this instrument was reflected in songs like “(Nobody knows me) like the piano” from 2017.

However, his early musical influence was also shaped by his own family. As he mentioned in an interview with Hypebeast, his father was constantly cI bought a lot of classical music material, pop, African and Brazilian rhythms.

And in his teenage years, he discovered his interest in music production when one of his older brothers set up a home studio while Sampha enjoyed being an artist Todd Edwards, Minnie Ripperton, Stevie Wonder, The Neptunes and Outkast.

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Image of Sampha as a child. Photo: Special.

The family tragedies that initially shaped him

Like we said, Mr. Joe, Sampha’s father, was an important figure in helping the artist discover his musical calling. Joe bought the piano in the family home from a neighbor and the youngest of the Sisay brothers hasn’t let go of it since he was three years old.

Therefore, his father’s absence affected him. In 1998, Joe died of lung cancer when Sampha was only 9 years old.S. Then, as a teenager, he saw one of his brothers become disabled after a stroke. But the family did everything at all times to protect him from the feeling of absence and pain that, although inevitable, was bearable with music by his side.

From school to the music industry

Sampha’s musical training took place at the Ewell Castle School, where he perfected his piano playing, joined the jazz band and became music captain. He already showed the ability to achieve great things… but the classroom was not the world in which he could develop his full ingenuity, and so he left school in 2007.

And that same year, thanks to the magic that once made My Space special as a social network that projected music careers, He met an artist who would not only change his life, but also become his friend: Kwes. The latter caught the young talent’s attention because, firstly, it introduced him to the world of experimental pop and unconventional compositions…

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Kwes was one of the artists who launched Sampha’s early social media career. Photo: via Last.fm.

And secondly, Kwes was responsible for introducing Sampha (who uploaded his music to MySpace during these years under the name Kid Nova) to the music industry by introducing him to other experimental projects such as: Ghostpoet, DELS, Mika Levi/Mikachu and SBTRKT, who would become his frequent collaborator in the coming years. This connection with other artists gave him confidence that other creatives would support his work.

All this good response and trust from Kwes led to the Morden native starting collaborating in 2009 with Young (formerly known as Young Turks), a subsidiary of the emblematic XL Recordings, which was just emerging on the British scene The xx or Jessie Wareand with whom he released his first two EPs between 2009 and 2013.

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SBTRKT and Sampha performed at Lollapalooza in 2012. SBTRKT was one of Sampha’s early collaborators and was instrumental in helping the Morden artist become better known. Photo: Getty.

The long road to Sampha’s debut album: great collaborations and a painful loss

During this time between his two EPs, Sampha dealt with a lot of complicated things. In 2010, her mother Binty was diagnosed with cancer.and the artist’s life was constantly divided between his aspiring career and, above all, caring for his mother.

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In 2012, the artist’s prospects would improve in both his personal and professional life. On the one hand, Binty’s cancer went into remission and on top of that, the Young/XL Recordings team managed to send some Sampha tracks to Drake, which led to some collaborations “Too Much” and “The Motion” from the album Nothing was the same.

At this time he also took part in the recording sessions of Kanye West received songwriting and production credits for The life of Pablo (2016) finally. And during the same period he worked with Solange Knowles on the composition of the album A sitting at the tableexactly in the song “Don’t Touch My Hair”. Beyoncé and Frank Ocean also recruited him at the time.

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Sampha is involved in the songwriting and production of Drake’s Nothing Was The Same album. Photo: Special via X/Twitter.

After an important period of collaboration with great artists, Sampha decided Focus on the songs that would make up her debut full-length album. The industry was excited to see what he would deliver to establish himself as one of Britain’s musical geniuses of today…

However, in 2014, his mother was diagnosed with cancer again and he returned home to care for her. Unfortunately she passed away in September 2015. “There is no such thing as a ‘grief process’…It’s like a dream that will never feel real.”he said in an interview with Fader, recalling his mother’s death.

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Sampha in his childhood with Binty, his mother. Special photo.

But all this pain and just the reflection on the loss and the way to overcome it, led to Proceedingsa 2017 album that stood out for its neo-soul, alternative and experimental R&B vibe, with a deep voice that can awaken the listener’s most nostalgic feelings.

Songs like “Kora Sings” or the aforementioned “(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano)”were a clear example of the nostalgia the composer felt at the loss of his parents. Relief through music, well… The material won Sampha the Mercury Prizewhich is considered one of the most important debuts of this time.

The great collaboration continued and their second album was released

After success meant that Proceedingswhich also led him to some of the greatest World festivals from Glastonbury to LollapaloozaSampha took his time making his second album.

Many things happened along the way that changed the landscape for the artist. High-profile collaborations continued, whether as guest artists or simply as session musicians. David Byrne and Florence + The Machine had success on a few songs in 2018; Alicia Keys and Kendrick Lamar They invited him to record between 2020 and 2022…

But even that couldn’t compare to the event that would completely change his life: the birth of his daughter in 2020.

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Sampha was involved in Kendrick Lamar’s album “Mr Morale & The Big Steppers”. Photo: Special.

The fact of becoming a father prompted Sampha to develop the creative process Lahai from 2023, his second album (whose title is inspired by the artist’s middle name), in which he not only reflected on the past and the wounds of absence, but also looked at them in retrospect… But he showed his new concept of love and life, inspired precisely by these feelings of fatherhood.

Musically, the album resumes the experimental R&B and soul essence of the previous material, although in this material the jazz influence is felt more strongly, perhaps reminiscent of the jazz courses from his time at the Ewill School.

What makes Sampha special as an artist

As we said at the beginning, Sampha is one of those artists who knows how to transform pain into art through relief.. With the piano as his favorite instrument and a musical education with diverse influences, the Londoner breaks the mold of modern R&B and takes him on the path of experimentation towards jazz, hip-hop, soul, trip-hop… whatever you like and send.

In this sense we can say that he is one of them These talents that delight us with every release because we don’t know what to expect. And that’s why international artists like Frank Ocean, Drake, Kanye West, Solange and Florence + The Machine have found him an indispensable creative.

But beyond the purely musical and instrumental, he used the grayest and brightest moments of his own life to transfer them into the field of reflection in his songs. With his lyrics, Sampha confirms to us why music is the perfect and honest outlet we need..

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