Sampha – LAHAI

A cross-dimensional triumph of spirit and imagination...

Venerated as the apotheosis of modern soul music, Sampha’s debut album ‘Process’ mined the emotional voids in his life at that time, namely the agonising loss of his mother. Continuing the work of tracing a line through the tendrils of lineage and legacy, follow-up ‘LAHAI’ is a paean to his paternal grandfather, and his own entry into parenthood. Like its predecessor, ‘LAHAI’ is a totemic album documenting a now thirty-something Sampha attempt the work of reconstruction. Over fourteen tracks, Sampha releases a series of manic thoughts, ruminations and existential questions across a musical arrhythmia, diagnosing and dissecting the notion of control in his life: the evasiveness of it, the loss of it and the quest to reclaim it.

Road-tested through a series of intimate improvisational shows, these Satellite Business residences – named after track number five on ‘LAHAI’ – placed the audience in a gravitational orbit around Sampha. What happens when people collide, break apart and then come together again? Getting to the core of that energy exchange, ‘LAHAI’ is music to commune to and with. Sampha’s friends, peers and collaborators, El Guincho, Yaeji, Léa Sen, Sheila Maurice Grey (Kokoroko), Ibeyi, Morgan Simpson (Black Midi), Yussef Dayes, Laura Groves and Kwake Bass, appeal to his unmoored consciousness. Woven in texturally into a hypnagogic mythos, these peripheral voices flutter between Sampha’s conception of reality and dreamlike reveries, between the earthly and the everlasting.

‘LAHAI’ Sampha’s interior tales eschew compositional form. Analogous with Solange’s ‘When I Get Home’, it’s a sound collage imbued with a cosmic charge, where suites and segments careen between West African folk spirituals, hymns and Afro-futuristic allegory. The album’s middle stretch invokes distant galaxies; from the slow crackle glitch of ‘Satellite Business’, into the searching prayer ‘Jonathan L Seagull’, into digital lullaby ‘Inclination Compass (Tenderness)’, Sampha drifts through the continuum: between dimensions and lapses in time. On ‘Can’t Go Back’, Sampha tries to stem the flow of his strained thoughts, echoing a plea before a pacey breakbeat breakdown: “Spirit, I’ve been tryna do some summoning/Time machine I built has been stuttering.” ‘Suspended’ is the height of spiritual fervour. The frenetic, free jazz aria positions love as a kind of elevated meditation. Sampha’s bristling vocal, stretched to the limits here, is his most potent instrument; split between registers, sometimes wispy and light, other times edging into spoken-word atonality.

Style and substance collide on survivor’s chronicle, ‘LAHAI’. It’s a spiritually-cleansing voyage through a landscape of dissonant digital brushstrokes and microscopic gradations of sound. It doesn’t gloss over Sampha’s delirium. Intense bursts of joy, wonderment, fear and foreboding overflow in a restorative meditation on the passage of time. ‘LAHAI’ is an astral soul coda that whilst intimately rendered, doubles as a pledge for connection and interrelatedness. We needed this.

9/10

Words: Shahzaib Hussain

Photo Credit: Jesse Crankson

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