Sampha at Manchester International Festival

In celebration of Sampha’s Mercury Prize win last night, it seems the perfect time to share our friend Ailsa McConnachie’s experience of his Manchester International Festival show.

I first discovered Sampha Sisay when he featured on four tracks of SBTRKT’s self-titled album back in 2011 and I was enchanted by his soothing vocals.¬†Now, 6 years later, after the release of his highly anticipated album ‘Process’, I am lucky to see him as part of Manchester International Festival 2017 headlining a one-off evening show at Manchester’s Albert Hall – a beautiful, relatively recently renovated Wesleyan chapel dating back to the early 20th century.

The staging was simple, a white backdrop with a silver arc resembling a rising sun, and complemented the venue’s layout, without detracting from the exquisite detail in the stained-glass windows. Sampha opened the night with a more acoustic version of Plastic 100, his unique silhouette bathed in blue lights and his voice captivating the crowd. I feel like I’m being taken on a rollercoaster of emotions throughout his set, through a mix of slower ballads such as Too Much, to livelier, upbeat tracks like Kora Sings.

Although Sampha’s lyrics are anguished and forlorn, surprisingly, his performance is not. His enthusiasm and passion project from the stage, injecting myself and the crowd with energy, particularly during Blood On Me, where the stage was aptly immersed in red and the song crescendoed to a powerful finish.

The venue suited Sampha perfectly. His mournful melodies filled the semi-circular music hall, showcasing the excellent acoustics of the old church. This was exemplified during No One Knows Me (Like The Piano), an emotional ballad where his voice sent shivers down my spine and brought tears to my eyes.

Thankfully, after emphatic cheers from the crowd, Sampha returned to the stage to finish on a more upbeat note, with an incredible percussion rendition of Without which I couldn’t help but dance to.

Without a doubt Sampha took centre stage, but his set would not have been complete without his two amazing, talented percussionists, who really brought his songs to life.¬†Leaving the venue, I could hear people discussing their surprise yet delight in Sampha’s performance. Although depicted as an understated artist, Sampha has demonstrated his prodigious flair and treated Manchester, and myself, to an unforgettable evening.

Article produced by Ailsa McConnachie.