London-born soul singer Sampha is riding high after taking home this year's coveted Mercury Prize. The soft-spoken 28-year-old was chosen from glittering line up of nominees including Ed Sheeran, Stormzy and Loyle Carner.
Not only will he be £20,000 better off and have a fancy trophy to add to his mantle, he has also got one up on rock band Radiohead, who are yet to win the Mercury Prize despite being nominated five times.
Who is Sampha?
Sampha is a British singer, songwriter and record producer whose full name is Sampha Sisay. He was born in Morden in South London and grew up with four brothers. Sampha's parents lived in Sierra Leone before migrating to the UK in the 1980s.
He has experienced his share of personal tragedy. His father Joe died of lung cancer in 1998, his elder brother suffering a stroke in 2010 and his mother Binty diagnosed passed away in 2015 after a cancer battle.
After her death, he travelled to Sierra Leone to bury his mother. The work on his first album Process was often interrupted as Sampha was the primary caregiver to his mother. Speaking about the conflict he faced between family responsibility and a promising career, Sampha told the Guardian: "There were times I had to take off and times I had to go on tour and she went into remission. It was difficult to try and balance that. [The song] Kora Sings was me struggling with my own issues. I paint a picture of being in a desert with a gun – I know it's dramatic, but it is like a movie scene. Me in the desert with a gun, going through what I'm going through. But then I get a call saying mum's ill. I have to put the gun down and suck it up."
Sampha has a lump in his throat but even after an endoscopy, the doctors couldn't diagnose any medical disorder associated with it.
Who has Sampha worked with previously?
Before releasing his debut album, Sampha was already being noticed in the industry for his collaborations with the likes of Drake, Kanye West, Jessie Ware, Frank Ocean and Solange. He provided additional vocals for Beyoncé's Mine featuring Drake, Frank Ocean's Alabama, Drake's Too Much, Kanye West's Saint Pablo and Solange's Don't Touch My Hair. In the latter three songs Sampha is also credited as the co-songwriter. He also worked with Jessie Ware on her debut studio album Devotion in 2011.
Known to be an introvert, Sampha has revealed that working with these stars helped him break out of his shell in some ways. He mentions a conversation with Ocean, where he advised Sampha not to worry about what everybody else thinks and to focus on what he believes.
He also revealed that Solange's in an interview that her passion about the "state of the times" led him to "just trying to embody the feeling. Just assessing myself in that context. Being a little more brave in terms of creating a dialogue and not necessarily feeling like what you are saying is perfect. To actually start speaking about it."
How did Sampha get into music?
When he was three-years-old, Sampha's dad bought a piano from a neighbour in order to distract his sons from watching too much TV. Sampha immediately took to the instrument and found himself playing the piano all the time. As a young boy he was greatly influenced by his brothers' choice of music which ranged from Stevie Wonder to sounds from their native Sierra Leone.
When Sampha's elder brother Sanie built himself a makeshift home studio, his interest in music production skyrocketed.
In 2007, Sampha met Kwes, a London producer via MySpace who ushered him into the British independent record label Young Turks. During this time his first couple of EPs, Sundanza and Dual, were released, Drake was introduced to Sampha's music and the latter received an email saying that Drake wanted to use his beats for his album.
What is his debut album Process about?
"This album doesn't necessarily feel like the summation of my life experiences. It was very much about things I was learning and going through in that time period, " he told the New York Times.
"For me, the beautiful thing about writing some of the songs I did is that when I listen to them, I have a feeling and a memory of that time. The benefit of having some of those songs is that I can listen and be transported roughly back to the time or the feeling — even if it's negative. Feeling anything is better than feeling nothing."
Some of Sampha's songs on the album are tied to the strains on his family and his own personal conflicts. For instance, in What Shouldn't I Be?, he writes "I should visit my brother, but I haven't been there in months." He talks about his mother in Kora Sings where he says," A mother needs a son so she needs therapy. We don't need to talk, I just need you here"
Who is Sampha dating?
Sampha lives in northwest London with his girlfriend Jojo who is of Jamaican and Polish heritage.