If you don’t know Sampha by name, you probably at least know him by voice.
The British singer, songwriter, and producer has previously collaborated with artists like SBTRKT, Jessie Ware, and Drake, and most recently lent his talents to Solange’s critically acclaimed album A Seat at the Table. Sampha finally released his own debut album, Process, earlier this month, and on Wednesday night he graced D.C. with his presence at 9:30 Club.
The show got off to a late start, but Mal Devisa finally appeared and played a short opening set. Unfortunately, she ran into some crackling noises and tuning issues with her bass guitar in the first two songs, but she pushed through the problems and made up for them with her gorgeous, soulful voice. Underneath the vocals, her foot tapped a steady beat on a kick drum while she picked intricate patterns on the bass and strummed it like a guitar.
A blue and green haze shrouded the stage as Sampha and his band began with the shimmering sounds of “Plastic 100°C.” The lighting throughout the set perfectly complemented the moods of each song, from the lonely, introspective tone of that first track to the intense, anxious feeling in “Blood on Me,” which was lit in a harsh red.
Sampha occasionally moved to the front of the stage to get closer to the audience, but for the most part he sang and bounced from behind his keyboard. And while the band skillfully filled out each song with drums, samples, and synths, the most magical moments happened when Sampha’s soothing voice was accompanied only by his piano keys. When he ended the set with a solo performance of the tender and nostalgic “(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano,” everything felt right.
As soon as Sampha started to leave, the crowd started calling for an encore. The four musicians reappeared and crowded around a small percussion setup instead of returning to their original positions. They had a massive drum jam that led into “Without,” and then Sampha played “Indecision” by himself as the last song of the night. He had endless thank-yous for everyone in the room, and the roaring applause proved that the love and appreciation was mutual.