Fe

Sampha's 'Process' and the Necessity of Vulnerable Black Masculinity

In his new album 'Process,' Sampha makes sculptures out of his skeletons.

Sampha is no stranger to the shadows on his walls. In fact, they may be his very best friends. Within the dark silhouettes and murky voids, he finds a glimmer of possibility and solace.


Here, words and sounds are constructed into fully realized ballads, contemplations on complicated memories, musings and moods that most of us are reluctant to confront. Sampha specializes in making sculptures out of his skeletons.

“You know Sampha, even if you don’t know him,” I told a friend over the phone this afternoon. This statement is true for you as well. You may have heard his whispery echoes in Beyoncé’s “Mine”, or noticed him, more blatantly, in several of SBTRKT’s songs (“Temporary View”, “Something Goes Right”, “Hold On”), his duets with Jesse Ware, or, most recently, identified him as the soulfully elated harmonizer in Solange’s “Don’t Touch My Hair.”

When Sampha lends his voice to another's music, he sprinkles magic dust onto the tune, evolving the track into an intimate experience—reminiscent of the recently viral Salt Bae’s grace with stocky, crimson cuts of meat. It is a finishing touch, the glitter that completes a masterpiece.

Yet, if you have never heard his voice, you may realize you know him simply by listening to one of his songs. Between his achingly soft, yet immensely stimulating voice and candid lyrics, you will find him describing emotions you didn’t know you knew. That is how you know him—because he already knows you.

Although Sampha’s collaborations are ecstatic, multidimensional and romantic, his own music is unselfconsciously vulnerable and contemplative, flowing with a sensual and enchanting essence.

The album cover for Process alone reveals his meticulousness, amidst his unrestrained creativity: perfectly symmetrical freeform locs crown his head, simultaneously resembling a halo and devil’s horns. He is a pure reflection of humanity’s mystery: finding the balance between good and not so good, embodying the excellence of being imperfect.

Where Dual, Sampha’s 2013 EP, ends, Process begins. Very few artists can say that their music flows seamlessly from one album to the next, yet, with Sampha’s Dual, it feels as though we are reading the opening chapters of an immense, engrossing novel—one that acts as a consolation for our most vulnerable thoughts. We are not alone.

Process is Sampha’s greatest musical declaration so far: a meditation on heartbreak, regret, homesickness, loss, self-image and love, and where he fits within all of these competing emotions and identities. It is also a fantastic and necessary declaration of one of the many faces of black masculinity: one where vulnerability and self reflection are expressed candidly and unapologetically.

The opening track, “Plastic 100ºC,” is a metaphorical anthem on travel, launching, what we leave behind and who we become when we exit familiarity. The setting is space, made abundantly clear by the clever Neil Armstrong sample, leading to the assumption that Sampha is melting from the sun: “It's so hot I’ve been melting out here/ I’m made out of plastic out here.”

However, it can also be read as melting from the discomfort of being away, a feeling I knew all too well the first time I went abroad and left behind my Ghanaian family. The weight, guilt and insecurity of leaving sometimes does not measure against the liberation of being on one's own. The plastic metaphor is also reminiscent of Ghanaian musician Moses Sumney’s usage in his song “Plastic.” There, his wings are made of plastic—and as wings are used for flight (or to signal one’s deity), the connection is palpable.

Home and family are reoccurring themes within Process, which Sampha, who is of Sierra Leonean descent, describes in various degrees. “Kora Sings,” which, audibly alone, feels optimistic, is actually a lullaby of loss and love.

Sampha’s mother battled cancer for several years, before passing away in 2015. In “Kora Sings”, there are moments of hope—“you don’t know how well you are, or just how strong you are”—followed by his pleading that she, his angel, doesn’t disappear. Followed by “(No One Knows Me) Like The Piano,” which describes the piano in his mother's home that served as sanctuary while he cared for her during her illness, these songs ring deeply in the ears and heart of those who’ve lost someone.

In “Take Me Inside,” Sampha displays his gorgeous talent for crafting seamless, exciting transitions. The song evolves from a sensual, alluring piano tune to a former lover, into a hypnotic, electric, invitation to reunite once again. Meanwhile, “Reverse Faults” describes the downfall of a slowly receding romantic relationship—and the destruction lovers can cause to hurt themselves, and inevitably one another. The poetic starkness within this song is a quality Sampha is praised for: his ability to take you there, before you realize it was a place you needed to visit in order to heal.

Every song on Process hits a unique chord within me, touches a spot on my soul that I hadn't realized existed, and thus, I must presume may have been neglected this whole while. Yet, “Under” is enticing in a seductive way: persistent repetition of the word under, intertwined with thunder, reminding us that a woman's spell is as striking as a crash of thunder against the earth’s surface.

The closing song, “What Shouldn’t I Be?” with all of its questioning and doubt about returning home, about confronting self and others, plays like the inner, conflicting thoughts that gnaw at our brains. The product: a stunning finale that does not leave me unsatisfied, nor yearn for what’s next. Instead, I appreciate the experience so much more, and am I excited to replay, to relive it again. You can always come home.

Process references a tenderness in black masculinity that has been recognized and honored with greater validity as of late. For too long, black men have been stereotyped as aggressive, violent, misogynist, problematic beings, who are taught not to confront their emotional pain, mental health, and essentially, to hide behind a mask of nonchalance and strength.

Moving narratives such as Moonlight and musical contributions from Daniel Caesar, Moses Sumney and Blood Orange, push back against these notions, presenting pop culture with diverse depictions of the black male. Sampha’s music is a welcome addition to this syllabus, a graceful, honest and beautiful salve that massages the mind and spirit.

Sampha is no stranger to finding the light in dark atmospheres. There, he extracts unpredictable instrumentals, sporadic yet equally harmonic beats, soothing melodies and tender tones. He submits to his emotions; they are his compass through the dark.

Culture

The Best African Memes of 2018

Laugh with us into 2019 with OkayAfrica's best African memes of 2018.

Meme culture has become a mainstay on these internet streets. It's essentially an alternate form of communicating, of commentary and of simple laughter. 2018 had its fair share of highs and lows, and young Africans continue to utilize memes to celebrate or to cope with the nonsense.

To reflect on the African memes that broke the internet this year, we tapped contributors and African meme tastemakers to list the best African memes of 2018.

Laugh away below.

Keep reading... Show less
popular

The Black Women Who Made Big Strides in France in 2018

Yes, this was a bad year for many reasons, but we can still celebrate the black women who rose to prominence

Back in 2015, a group of Black women activists appeared in the French media: les afrofems. They were and still are, fighting against police brutality, for better inclusion in the media and to destroy harmful sexual stereotypes surrounding black women among other worthy goals. Since then, more influential Black women have gained a bigger representation in the media. And, even better, some of the afrofems activists, like Laura Nsafou and Amandine Gay, have made films and written books to bring more diversity to the entertainment industry.

2018 has, in many ways, been a year where black women made strides in France, at least in terms of culture. From winning Nobel prizes, to having best selling books and being on top of the charts, Black French women have showed that, no matter how much France wants to keep them under the radar, they're making moves. And, no matter the tragedies and terrible events that have shaped the year, it is something worth celebrating.

France's New Queen of Pop Music

We begin with Aya Nakamura, France's new queen of pop music. Her song Djadja was a summer hit. Everyone from Rihanna, to the French football team who successfully won their second world cup, sang it. Her sophomore album "Nakamura" has been certified gold in France and is still on top of the charts. She is the first French singer to have a number one album in the Netherlands since Edith Piaf in 1961. The last time a black woman was as visible in pop music was in 2004, with Lynsha's single "Hommes...Femmes".

Nakamura has received a huge backlash, mostly due to misogynoir—misogyny directed towards black women where race and gender both play roles. From a French presenter butchering her African first name despite the fact that he can easily pronounce words like "Aliagas", to online trolls calling her ugly and manly when a picture of her wearing no makeup surfaced, to people complaining that she is bringing down the quality of the entire French pop music industry, Nakamura responds to her critics gracefully. Her music is not groundbreaking but her album is full of catchy songs with lyrics using French slang she masters so well that she came up with her own words like "en catchana" (aka doggy style sex). And most importantly, many black girls and women can finally see someone like them in the media getting the success she deserves.

The Nobel Prize Winner

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Another Black French woman has broken records this year: the Guadeloupean writer Maryse Condé who won the Alternative Nobel Prize, a prize meant to replace the Nobel Prize in Literature, after the scandal that the Swedish Academy of Literature faced last year. Condé wrote her first novel at only 11 years old and has been prolific ever since. A former professor of French literature at Columbia University, she has published more than 20 books since the 1970s, exploring the complex relationships within the African diaspora. "Segu", her most famous novel, is about the impact of the slave trade and Abrahamic religion on the Bambara empire in Mali in the 19th century. Condé's work is radical and she remains committed to writing feminist texts exploring the link between gender, race and class, as well as exploring the impact of colonialism. Condé is a pillar of Caribbean literature and it's taken long enough for her work has been acknowledged by the Nobel prize committee.

The Children's Books Writers

From Comme un Million de Papillon Noir

And finally, 2018 has been the year where France's children's literature industry has finally understood how important, for the public, writers and publishers, being inclusive and diverse was. From Laura Nsafou's Comme un Million de Papillon Noir, a best selling book about a young black girl learning to love her natural hair which sold more than 6000 copies, to Neiba Je-sais-tout: Un Portable dans le Cartable, the second book of Madina Guissé published this year after a successful crowdfunding campaign, there are more and more children's and young adult books with non white protagonists. In France, there are still no stats about how diversity is doing, but in America, in 2017, only 7 percent of writers of children's literature were either Black, Latino or Native American.

There's still much to accomplish in France for the Black community to have better representation in the media, politics and all walks of life, but important strides have been accomplished this year, and it make me hopeful for what 2019 and the following years have in store.

News

J Hus Has Been Sentenced to Eight Months in Jail for Knife Possession

The rapper has been convicted following an arrest in June.

Gambian-Biritish grime rapper J Hus has been sentenced to eight months in prison for knife possesion, reports BBC News.

The artist, neé Momodou Jallow, was arrested in Stratford London in June when police pulled him over near a shopping center, claming that they smelled cannabis. Police officers asked Hus if he was carrying anything illegal, to which the rapper admitted that he had a 10cm folding knife in his possession. When asked why, he responded: "You know, it's Westfield."

Hus pleaded guilty at a hearing in October after initially pleading not guilty.

Keep reading... Show less

get okayafrica in your inbox

news.

popular.