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The quiet rise of Sampha Sisay

The quiet rise of Sampha Sisay

When hip hop legend Drake premiered his new single “Too Much” on the hugely popular American talk show – Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, many Sierra Leonean viewers wondered about Sampha – the keyboard player with the Sierra Leonean name whose haunting vocals made the track so distinctive. Those observant enough to notice Sampha’s startling resemblance to Sierra Rutile’s CEO John Sisay wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the two are brothers.  (Photo:  Sampha Sisay)

Sampha Sisay, the youngest of the five Sisay brothers, has been quietly but steadily becoming London’s most talked about singer/producer.   While his stand-out vocal, production and keyboard contribution to Drake’s album has brought him to the attention of a much wider and more commercial audience, he is already well known for an eclectic body of work which includes frequent collaborations with the musical project SBTRKT and Mercury Prize nominated Jessie Ware, as well as two solo EPs on the London-based Young Turks label.  Reviewers have described ‘Dual’, his most recent solo work, as a “brief but dazzling display of instrumental and vocal talent,” “emotionally compelling”, and “a unique talent.”

The pervasive emotional honesty in Sampha’s solo work is rooted in his upbringing.  Visitors to the lively London house where he grew up will remember the late Joe Sisay, Sampha’s father, as a great host, conversationalist and music lover.  Discussions about everything from music to politics, world affairs to sport, were set against of the backdrop of Mr Sisay’s extensive and varied music collection.  When, one day he brought home a piano, the musical backdrop increasingly became the sound of Sampha teaching himself how to play the piano.

Sampha’s quiet but unmistakable star potential has not gone unnoticed.  Continuing the genre-defying trajectory of his career so far, a split single with Mercury Award Winning indie pop group the xx is due for release this month and there is also the much-talked about partnership with Solange Knowles in the offing.  Ms Knowles’ new boutique label Saint Records recently announced that it would be releasing a compilation called Saint Heron, featuring 12 original songs from an all-star list of very contemporary left-of-centre R&B artists, which includes Sampha.    He said in a recent interview:  “It’s a great thing to feel like you’re not by yourself and people understand where you’re coming from,” which would seem to suggest that we will be seeing much more solo work from this unassuming but hugely talented Sierra Leonean.

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