In 2017, British singer Sampha released his debut album, Process, to widespread critical acclaim, earning him the Mercury Prize. Despite Process’ success, fans waited six years for Sampha’s next album, Lahai, the long-overdue follow-up to his debut record. During that time, Sampha has clearly endured considerable artistic growth, given the incredibly textured production and existential songwriting on Lahai.
Thematically, Sampha takes a more conceptual approach with Lahai. The lyrics paint the artist’s existential crisis as he seeks to grasp onto meaning amidst a flurry of questions about the nature of time, space, and memory. On the track “Satellite Business,” he questions common conceptions of reality, singing “Maybe there’s no ends, Maybe just infinity, Maybe no beginnings, Maybe just bridges.” The ambiguity of time is a particular point of interest for Sampha. “Suspended” imagines the singer finding solace in the memory of someone from his past. By escaping his demons through living within a memory, Sampha challenges the linear conception of time.
Sampha is concerned with finding purpose through personal growth, an overarching theme of Lahai. He frequently illustrates the evasion of one’s problems and soaring toward liberation through a metaphor of birds’ flight. In “Inclination Compass (Tenderness),” Sampha sings “How about we fly towards the source again? Let’s switch from cold to warm again,” relating the idea of spiritual healing to birds’ migration.
Unlike Process, which employs a more stripped-back and simplistic production style, Lahai’s instrumentation is elegant and polished. The production is also futuristic and experimental, such as with the dynamic drum and bass breakbeats on “Spirit 2.0.” Sampha’s tendency to introduce groovy drum beats in the second half of many of Lahai’s songs is certainly a highlight of the record.
In an era when artists rapidly pump out music to maintain relevancy or amass riches, Sampha is an outlier. The composition of Lahai’s meticulous production, angelic vocals, and introspective writing is a testament to Sampha’s insistence on taking his time to perfect his craft. Lahai is a triumph that was undoubtedly worth the wait.