Sampha made a mark when he first appeared on NPR Music’s esteemed Tiny Desk Concert series way back in 2016. The British singer-songwriter kept things simple for that outing, opting to sit down at the piano alone for a three-song set that showed off his talents. Now, the “Spirit 2.0” singer is making a return trip to the famed desk. This time, however, he’s bringing a full band as he inspires with songs from his recent effort LAHAI.
Sampha kicks things off in a familiar way as he sits at the piano to kick things off with “Spirit 2.0.” Things are different, though, as his four-piece band — which includes percussionist Ruthven, Elsas on keys, bassist Rosetta and drummer Blake Cascoe — fills out the rest of the sound with their respective instruments as well as contributing supporting vocals. After that rousing performance, the crew moves on to “Only,” a track where Sampha explores his doubts and insecurities. He steps up the tempo a bit here, making the song a little nimbler while still offering probing introspection.
Next up is “Dancing Circles.” This one also enjoys a new arrangement that expands the piano rhythm of the original into a funky, jazzy groove that has an undeniable sway (even Sampha couldn’t help but move to the song’s reimagined groove). For his final song, the singer takes us back a full decade with “Without.” One of the songs that put him on the map, he taps into something special with this rendition as he forms a drum circle with his band to recreate the track’s innovative sound. He then ends the song and his set back at the piano, once again echoing his first Tiny Desk appearance as he vamps to a close.
The updated flavor that Sampha brings this go around shows how much he’s evolved as an artist over the past seven years. It also shows that, no matter how much he switches his style up, he’ll always come back to the basics of just him and his piano. Check out his inspired Tiny Desk performance when you press play.