Sampha's debut album, Process, is one of the most critically lauded albums of 2017 so far. It has put the 28-year-old London, England, artist firmly in his own spotlight after a string of high-profile guest collaborations with Drake, Solange and Frank Ocean, among many others.
For the uninitiated, Sampha Sisay's aching falsetto is as vulnerable and naked as his songwriting, and his emotional lyrics take on more resonance because of the often spare instrumentation in his music, undergirded by his delicate piano and keyboard work.
"No One Knows Me (Like the Piano)," a track from Process dedicated to Sampha's late mother, is a prime example of what this array of sounds can achieve and is indicative of what attracted Drake to feature Sampha on his Nothing Was the Same track "Too Much" — perhaps his best-known collaboration.
Now, Sampha is generating acclaim for his solo work and, after a recent North American tour, he was just announced as an act at the three-day Osheaga Festival in Montreal in August. CBC Music caught up with Sampha as he played Canadian shows in support of Process to ask him about the five songs that changed his life.
Nuyorican Soul, 'I Am the Black Gold of the Sun' (4Hero remix)
"Can I play it? When I remember hearing [Nuyorican Soul's] "I Am the Black Gold of the Sun," the 4Hero version, I remember hearing this piano riff [plays the song's opening piano riff from his laptop] and being like "What the hell is this?" I tried to learn how to play it and stuff. I remember that was probably like the piano riff that completely started me up. I must have been like, I don't know how old I was, 11 or 12, something like that. Through [4Hero] I found Minnie Riperton and the Rotary Connection [who recorded the original version] and stuff."
N.E.R.D., 'Am I High'
"I listened to a lot of N.E.R.D. I was like a huge Neptunes fan and stan. I just used to watch, as a lot of people did on YouTube when it first started popping or on LimeWire, all these videos. I'd just download Pharrell in the studio, Timbaland in the studio. I would just watch whatever superproducers were in the studio and stuff."
Stevie Wonder, 'Golden Lady'
"The first time I heard 'Golden Lady,' it was a great song. [I'm a] piano lover. Stevie Wonder is just one of the most influential musicians of our [time] ... but he's just like an incredible artist in so many ways. Musically speaking, his production and songs just felt like magic, very colourful, just as a lot of people might say, 'It gets me in my feelings' [laughs].
"And it just felt like here's music that can constantly feel as magical as it did when I was eight years old, and there's a lot of music I used to listen to when I was eight that I thought was poppin' and I listen to it now and it's not so poppin'. Some stuff is still great, but by magical I mean being completely submerged in it I can hear it or I can see the strings of the show a little bit more. As with a lot of people he's had a huge influence on music, period. I listened to a lot of Stevie Wonder growing up."
Flirta D, 'Warp Speed'
"So, grime music. So like 'Ps and Qs' by Kano. Or even like, 'Serious' by JME, or like Wiley's 'Eskimo,' Flirta D's 'Warp Speed.' I'll go with Flirta D's 'Warp Speed.' For one, he's my cousin [laughs]. And when I heard that it just tripped me out. It was like, [my cousin], he was a grown musician, he's a rapper. It was the imagination. It was really imaginative, I mean, grime in general to me, is just super eccentric and eclectic with the amount of noises that people are using and the music itself ... there's something about that London sound. It was just really important to me."
Daft Punk, 'Around the World'
"Bands like Air, [their song] 'Ce Matin La,' that had a huge influence on me growing up. Also Daft Punk. It would have to be 'Aerodynamic' or 'Fresh' from Homework. And obviously 'Around the World,' to be honest. The first time I saw that, heard that on MTV I was like nine or 10 or something, super young. Seeing that video and stuff, the electronic stuff and the synthesiser barcode I was like, 'What is this?' They had a big influence on me."
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