Singer-songwriter Sampha on Fatherhood and Intuition

Singer-songwriter and Producer, Sampha
( Jesse Crankson )

[00:00:00] Sampha: It's difficult for me sometimes as well to see the similarities between my creative process and also how I've created my life. And there are things I do see, I see growth in both, I also see fear in both. There are definitely parallels and similarities, but it's not something I thought of. I'm actually just figuring this out, talking out loud.

[00:00:30] Helga: I'm Helga Davis and welcome to my show of fearless conversations that reveal the extraordinary. In all of us.

[00:00:41] My guest today is the British singer songwriter and producer, Sampha. Sampha's someone I've wanted to speak with for a long time now, and I'm not ashamed to admit I turned into a giggling adolescent girl. when I learned that he'd agreed to come by the day after his set of [00:01:00] shows at Webster Hall in New York.

[00:01:01] Sampha, 

[00:01:03] Helga: whose full name is Sampha Cisse, was born in 1988 to parents of Sierra Leonean descent. He won England's prestigious Mercury Prize in 2017 for Best Album for his debut album, Process. His music is a seductive blend of meditative, confessional lyrics and intricate, genre spanning production. In this conversation, we discuss the images that have inspired his second album, Lehigh, family dynamics, and fatherhood.

[00:01:37] He speaks openly about trusting his intuition in art and life.

[00:01:51] Hi Sampha. Hello. I'm Helga. And it's really nice to meet you. Likewise. So I was at your concert the other night. [00:02:00] and after I was trying to figure out what my experience was. So I wrote something down. So we are going to begin this conversation with story time. Okay. Are you ready? 

[00:02:17] Sampha: Oh, I'm ready. Okay. 

[00:02:21] Helga: You're supposed to ask me if I'm ready.

[00:02:23] Oh, are you ready? I mean, you seem ready. All right, here we go. After SAMFA, Thursday, November 9th, 2023. My head is heavy, and my mouth feels like it's full of smoke. I'm not sure which sensation to believe, so I turn over, you know, just to see. To make sure, at least. Nothing is on fire. Now, more awake than not, I hear the music of [00:03:00] gentrification outside.

[00:03:01] This building has survived almost a century, but now someone's out there chipping away at its foundation and replacing a few bricks. She's getting a lift, of sorts, to keep her going, going, going, till she's, we're gone. Once my eyes were fully open with, you know, all that already had been thought to happen, or happening, I welcomed the surprise of two crotches swinging back and forth outside my window.

[00:03:39] I blink, blink, blink, Suspended in the air between two ropes, I see the crotches are wearing tool belts and harnesses with two yellow straps that create a substantial V between each of their legs. The one on the [00:04:00] right thrusts a pick back and forth into the concrete, while the other one yells, Wait! Wait, wait, animal, at the crew working below.

[00:04:14] Between their world and me, a sheet of black plastic meant to catch the dust from the work their work makes, makes a joke of the dust on my windowsill. I pull myself away from the movie outside to swing round and put my feet on the floor. They had been dancing, they were struck, and their dance turned into something holy.

[00:04:43] Yes, I waved my hands in the air and didn't care who saw, until there was no sound, no sound at all. I swayed and surrendered. To the thing I knew and have always known to be the work [00:05:00] of the past and the future, making itself known to the present. I held my tongue and heart, one in each hand, and tethered myself to the music.

[00:05:14] And see, see, I am still wearing a pair of paper bangles round my wrist. They gave me entry into the sound, making a sound Now, only I can hear. Though they don't fully capture what I saw and felt, they, they, awaken and amuse the muse who wears them. 

[00:05:44] Sampha: Wow, that's beautiful. It's something I wish I did more often, is, is, uh, expand upon.

[00:05:54] Some people might call it mundane poetry, but, you know, the poetry of what can be seen [00:06:00] is to be mundane, and look at it from another perspective, so, yeah. 

[00:06:05] Helga: It was a very interesting evening also, because it's the first time I've been to a concert where people weren't filming. I didn't see any phones on every once in a while.

[00:06:24] Some beat would drop, and then people would yell, and then they'd take out their phones, and they might take a picture. It was very, very brief though. And then they went back to listening. And I don't think I've had that experience since it became okay to want to capture every single moment rather than just kind of being there and listening and having whatever experience you have.

[00:06:55] You're having. So it was quite refreshing to just [00:07:00] look and see that people were seeing and listening to you. There was a lot of weed. Yep. There was definitely. I picked up on that every night. It was a lot of weed. Hence my, my feeling that my mouth was full of smoke because it just, it was, yeah, not everywhere, but within a lot of places.

[00:07:29] Even that didn't feel intrusive. It just felt like part of the experience people were having.

[00:07:39] And then I went home and I couldn't sleep because all the sound was still in my head, and I felt that all of my time dancing around my living room had paid off when I came to the and got to hear. Some [00:08:00] of that work live. 

[00:08:01] Sampha: Yeah, I mean that's a little bit how I feel like, you know, I'm on stage right now and I I dance to myself at home, but I become a little bit stiff or self conscious and it's definitely given me a chance to be able to climb over that kind of wall, which has been quite liberating.

[00:08:20] Helga: When you came out, You also seem to bless the stage and bless the space. I also was aware that you all performed in a circle.

[00:08:35] Can you talk a little bit about that? Whether or not that was a conscious choice, which I think it was. 

[00:08:42] Sampha: As in performing in a circle? And also what 

[00:08:44] Helga: you did when you came out on stage. Yeah, I don't know, it just, 

[00:08:49] Sampha: I'm someone who kind of runs heavily off intuition and just, I begin doing something and it feels right and it's something to kind of set the energy or maybe trying to get [00:09:00] some sort of bird's eye view or remind myself of why I'm standing on stage.

[00:09:07] Because a lot of the time I could be on stage, there's times in the past that we've been performing I'm like, ah, did I turn the washing machine on whilst I'm singing a song? Or I'm thinking of, ah, there's some phlegm in my throat right now, or my back is hurting, or anything that will just take me out of where I'm at.

[00:09:25] I guess the presence. And also I feel like a lot of this record And the music that I've been making has the element of cosmic awe or something. I'm just doing something that's expressing that energy. It's intentional, but sometimes I do things and it's in retrospect, I kind of sort of start to articulate why am I doing it or what's going on, but it feels right in the moment.

[00:09:49] And I guess, yeah, the circle initially was about creating a kind of link or togetherness, especially coming into performing again. and [00:10:00] feeling like I was in a completely new world and all the anxieties I felt and yeah it was all in this sort of creating a safe space, creating that sort of energy psychologically, physically, spiritually you could even say um and you know obviously the circle has so many different meanings attached to it whether it's divinity or infinity or all these things and time and as I said sometimes I do things and I'll recognize the connections in retrospect.

[00:10:30] Even if I did it for a particular reason, it has many more reasons that people might attribute to it and things that I might find out about it that grow my understanding about what it is I'm doing or why I'm attracted to doing certain things. 

[00:10:42] Helga: So you were away from making music? Mm-Hmm. for a while. 

[00:10:47] Yeah.

[00:10:49] Helga: And I've heard from a lot of creative people that they need that time away to rest [00:11:00] to get a new perspective on what they're doing and as you said, why they're doing it and maybe what they'd like to do next. Mm-Hmm. . Will you talk a little bit about your time away from making music? 

[00:11:15] Sampha: Yeah, I do feel that as much as.

[00:11:20] There's been many a time I'm like, no, I really want to make something fast. I always want to make something that feels like I'm progressing in some sort of way. Yeah, I just recognize that it's a part of my nature for me to need enough time to read something or watch something. Amongst all the other things that are going on in life, especially around, you know, the last time I dropped a record, there's so much that goes on around that, whether it's playing shows or doing interviews, alongside life, and it can be difficult to really find the time and space.

[00:11:50] I'm someone who likes to sit down and focus on one thing, like, once I'm in the music zone, that's the zone I'm in. For that reason, it took me a while to even get started making [00:12:00] music again after I released my, my first album, which was in February of 2017, and, um, I kind of started making music again a year later, but it wasn't anything I was like, oh, I'm making an album or whatnot, and, um, Then in 2019, sort of halfway through 2019, like many other producers would tell you, sometimes you just buy a bit of music equipment.

[00:12:23] Someone said it's like buying inspiration, and that's, that's exactly what I did. I bought myself a synthesizer and started experimenting and I felt really energized and I felt like I was in a new space sonically, because a lot of What I do, sort of, is either like an image I'll see or like a sound I'll hear and that will kind of inform, uh, a musical direction.

[00:12:49] Helga: Did you have an image for this time period? 

[00:12:53] Sampha: The first thing actually was just like clear blue sky, and that might just have been because I was looking at clear [00:13:00] blue skies also, but that was what was informing, and then there was a particular image. A Japanese moss garden, with moss all over the floor and these very thin, tall trees.

[00:13:14] And the camera was from like a bird's eye view perspective. The song I was writing at the time was Spirit 2. 0, um, and these two things, those were all kind of coinciding. And then it felt like I was onto something. Started making more tracks and I was like, oh, by the end of the year I was like, I'm definitely making a body of work here.

[00:13:33] But at the end of 2019 I also found out I was going to be a father, so I was like, I better rush this up.

[00:13:42] I've got to put some dates in the calendar, gotta do some sessions, gotta try and figure it out. Lo and behold I was like, yeah I'm gonna fly, maybe I'm gonna go to LA, maybe I'm gonna go here, maybe I'm gonna go there. And then it gets to March and obviously there's a global pandemic. And that just naturally changed the course of my plans like it did a lot of people.[00:14:00] 

[00:14:00] And the focus became on just caring for my partner and um, just getting ready for becoming a father, which I did that summer. Um, and then once again that slowed things down. I won't say slow things down but I just, that was the focus. In looking back it was like a blessing because in my position this is definitely a privileged point of view but I could spend time raising my daughter.

[00:14:27] But yeah, all of that, sort of, in terms of my musical output, slowed things down. So it took like a half a year to be like, okay, how am I going to jump back on the horse? And I was like, I might need someone to help, uh, sort of steer the ship a little bit. And I looked for a producer. I knew someone called, uh, Al Grincho, I'd never worked with him before.

[00:14:50] His artist name, his name is Pablo, um, he just helped with like arranging some songs I already had and just giving me a bit of, no, you're on a, you know, you're [00:15:00] on a good path. Keep going, motivating. From there it took another, uh, year or couple years to finish a record, but yeah, all these things basically is what was happening.

[00:15:13] Helga: I think it's hard. for many people to understand how much time it takes to make something. And not just something that you feel good about to make anything. And how you have to sit with it and throw out your best idea because you actually need to say something else. Will you talk a little bit about trusting your intuition and asking for help.

[00:15:49] Sampha: Yeah, it's definitely, it's a journey. I'm someone who, in the creative space, I mean everything is feeling, I feel like, it's almost all [00:16:00] feeling, like it's all attached to feeling, but I'm very much led by my gut. Um, even if I have like a preconceived idea, you know, I'm not someone who's going to just stay on that.

[00:16:14] I'm quite fluid, so I have strong intuitions, especially making music. I mean, I trust them enough usually to document it, record it, and that's a whole challenge within itself and a whole sphere of understanding as well. Like, there's times where, you know, recognizing that I'm not necessarily, I wouldn't say that I'm not the source of it, but I say it to people sometimes, as I'm talking to you, I don't sit here and write the words I'm about to say to you.

[00:16:43] Somehow my brain, you know, someone else knows how it works, but I just keep talking to you, it just keeps flowing, and there's that space, you know, I create from. Like I might create something and then forget it, and someone else will remember it. You know, and someone else would be like, oh, that thing you did was really good.

[00:16:59] I [00:17:00] don't know what I did. And so I feel like I'm out of control at times. Documenting these intuitions is one thing, but then trusting them is like a whole other genre. On this record, I gave myself space to not share things, to keep things to myself, just because I wanted to make sure that I was kind of valuing my direction and then when it felt right to share this or show this with people.

[00:17:27] Because as soon as you do share a piece of work, there's a particular energy that evaporates. It goes, psst! Because your perspective might change on it, and so I was more aware of that this time around. My process, generally speaking, creative process up until this point has been heavily relying on intuition.

[00:17:45] Helga: What about in your life? 

[00:17:48] Sampha: It's a difficult thing because there's intuition. It's just like a good song at times. You know when you hear a good song while you read? something you're like that's exactly what I was going through but I [00:18:00] didn't frame it because once you codify something you can then go back to it and you can then assess it and you can critique it.

[00:18:08] So I feel like I am, you know, there's times where I was like, oh, this doesn't feel quite right, I did it, but I won't necessarily act on it. I'll just let it happen. And then in retrospect, if something happens, I'm like, I did feel something about that. Maybe I should have acted on that. The way I sort of move all the people I attract to, all the people I work with, there is a lot of intuition, I guess.

[00:18:28] It's a funny thing in intuition, you know, because the flip side of it is prediction, I guess. And sometimes that cannot be great. Because we're prediction machines, as our brain does, literally, all the time. 

[00:18:38] Helga: How do you feel your creative process to be separate from your creative process? lived experience in terms of the people around you.

[00:18:53] Sampha: Sometimes it can be connection, you know, there's times where precisely because I [00:19:00] have this need to like connect or empathize so strongly. It's like a big switch. It's either I am doing it or I'm not. I really, really, I want to connect with you strongly, and I want to know, and I want to have this deep thing with you.

[00:19:16] But on an individual scale, it's an imbalance. You know, so much going on that it's difficult, I think. It's not, it's not, in terms of all the stimulus, all the messaging, all the kind of abstraction you have to do, talking to people, millions of miles away, keeping up with them, trying to empathize with them across the pond, trying to empathize with people through social media, trying to, you know, it's just a lot.

[00:19:40] So, I do feel like that is something, you know, in terms of putting that creative energy into how do I deal with this. It's difficult for me sometimes as well to see the similarities between My creative process and also how, to some degree, how I've created my life. Um, [00:20:00] and there are things I do see, I do, there are things there as well, I do see.

[00:20:05] I see growth in both, I also see fear in both, I see, you know, there are definitely parallels and similarities, but It's not something I thought of before, so I'm actually just figuring this out, talking. It's great. Let's just figure things out. Yeah. 

[00:20:20] Helga: Where are you in your family? Are you an only child? Do you have brothers and sisters?

[00:20:25] Sampha: I have four older brothers. Whoa. Yeah, so I'm the youngest of five. 

[00:20:32] Helga: And do your brothers see you as having had advantages that they didn't have. So for instance, I have five brothers. And when I listen to them speak about their experiences with our parents and my mother in particular, they feel that by the time she got to me, she was [00:21:00] kinder and gentler and more understanding and that they bore the brunt of the confusion between my father and mother and that I somehow escaped all of that.

[00:21:23] You're listening to Helga. We'll rejoin the conversation in just a moment. Thanks for being here.

[00:21:33] Avery Willis-Hoffman: The Brown Arts Institute at Brown University is a university wide research enterprise and catalyst for the arts at Brown that creates new work and supports This amplifies and adds new dimensions to the creative practices of Brown's arts departments, faculty, students, and surrounding communities. Visit arts.

[00:21:52] brown. edu to learn more about our upcoming programming and to sign up for our mailing list.[00:22:00] 

[00:22:12] Helga: And now, let's rejoin my conversation with British singer songwriter, Sampha. Where are you in that conversation with your own family? 

[00:22:22] Sampha: Oh yeah, definitely. It's the same thing. My brothers say I got the demo version. They got the full game. So I've got you, yeah. And I can see that, and also, like, there's quite a gap as well.

[00:22:35] Like, my eldest brother is, like, 21 years older than me. Oh, I have that too. And the second youngest is, like, 11 years older than me. 

[00:22:42] Helga: Yeah, I have exactly the same. 

[00:22:45] Sampha: So there's a real, like, generation. Like, so my parents were quite a bit older, and You know, settled and my brother's definitely had like a stricter upbringing, uh, you know, my parents figuring out what, you know, they, they migrated from Sierra Leone [00:23:00] to, to England, to London.

[00:23:02] Um, so yeah, a hundred percent, yes, a different experience. So, um, yeah, I'm the privileged little brother. Yeah. You know, and they never made me feel any way about it. It's not like a, there's no like, resent or anything like that. You know, I've got a lovely family. Brothers who've been, you know, very supportive.

[00:23:21] And you know, obviously families are complicated and there's conflict, but they've always looked out for me in, in, in the sense of like trying to resolve things that with me, me out of the equation or, you know, obviously as I've grown older, it's one of those difficult things you have, like, maybe they call it little brother syndrome and whatnot, you know, you're kind of slightly submissive or you might not speak out how you feel because it's just a shift in how you've been raised.

[00:23:45] But yeah, no, definitely a hundred percent. They had a different upbringing to me. 

[00:23:49] Helga: And what do you imagine your parents life was like when they arrived in London [00:24:00] with four other children? 

[00:24:02] Sampha: Yeah, I mean, I guess my parents wanted to give us the best opportunities possible, including my dad finding a job here, um, and there's obviously culturally 


[00:24:19] Sampha: completely different situation and I imagine it wasn't easy.

[00:24:25] Both my parents have. past. Um, so I have to get information from my brothers, but I imagine, you know, like, I think about all the things that were raising us in a world that culturally They didn't maybe fully grasp, um, 

[00:24:45] but 

[00:24:45] Sampha: they had our best interests at heart all the time. 

[00:24:48] Helga: Do you feel rooted there in any way, even though you weren't born there?

[00:24:53] Sampha: Um, yeah, I grew up in a Sierra Leonean household and Sierra Leonean customs and culture, [00:25:00] um, and on a deeper level, I do feel like sometimes when I went back, it feels like there's a part of me that's living there. It's a strange thing, like, Even listening to some music that might not necessarily directly from Suriname in my teens, I came across what like Wassouli music, which is this music of the historical region, Wassouli region, which part of is like Mali and I forget the other countries, but this music just transported me like psychogeographically to being in Africa, but not in a, not even in a sense of like going back in time, even though this was kind of like folk music, it felt really fresh and exciting, but I just was so enthralled by it.

[00:25:41] And, um, I got a chance to talk to like a Gillo or like a Jelly, um, oral historian entertainer because I, I wanted to use some of this music and I was like, I felt like maybe I'm appropriating this in some such, 'cause I dunno so much about it. And he was like, what's your second name? And I told him my second name, Cisse.

[00:25:58] And he was like, oh, [00:26:00] I would you tell us, tell people your second name. Oh, si, SI. Um, which means. Well, I didn't know what it meant. And he was like, he said like, oh, your ancestors are like philosophers and therapists, and he was telling me all these things that I had no idea about, uh, which was really interesting, um, I'm almost forgetting about how I got here.

[00:26:30] My train of thought, yeah, but he was also saying that, um, You know, I was wondering why I've got such a, uh, attraction to this instrument. And he was like, Oh, my, my ancestors would have played you this, you would have heard this so many times. Which instrument? Like the kora, um, the kora and the ngoni, and it was just like an interesting, road that kind of opened up, I was like, of questioning, like, why am I so, so, so attracted to this music?

[00:26:56] And, you know, figure it, and you know, him telling me about my [00:27:00] family name and also how, you know, since they migrated and, you know, would have maybe come from Mali or settled in Sierra Leone and me being so attracted to the music, I was like, oh, maybe there is, I felt like a calling. That was interesting.

[00:27:15] Helga: Did your parents pass during this time of your pause in music? 

[00:27:22] Sampha: No, so my. My mum passed away in 2015 whilst I was making my first record, um, and then my, my, my dad passed away when I was nine, um, so a while ago, a long time ago, um. 

[00:27:39] Helga: Did that have an effect on the music you were making? 

[00:27:43] Sampha: Oh yeah, 100%. I mean, for me, the music was like a bit of a space to sort of, like, canvas to express how I was feeling, um, and I couldn't help but write about, uh, my mum, um, and [00:28:00] feelings of grief and such, yeah.

[00:28:04] Helga: My mom died in April, and the grief is a very tricky thing. How it leaks out during times when you think, oh, I'm, yeah, no, no, no. And I can say with a lot of ease that my mom died in April, my mom died in April, my mom, my mom died in April. And then sometimes when I say, my mom died in April. I start to count the months, like, how long ago was that, where am I now, where's she now?

[00:28:51] Yeah. And then I have people who, in my life, who mothered me [00:29:00] during that time, and I feel this thing that they came because somehow they knew. They knew that I, I needed mothering, and they mothered me so then I could go and mother my mother. 

[00:29:18] Sampha: Yeah, no, it's, it's, um, There was times where I feel like all these experiences beforehand, I was more sceptical about fate than all these kind of things, you know?

[00:29:31] Helga: Say more about what that means, sceptical about fate. 

[00:29:35] Sampha: Uh, I mean, you know when people might say like, oh, this was destined to happen, or these people came into your life for a reason. for a purpose and I've always been someone who's like questioned these things or even you know prayer or speaking things out to the universe or thinking that someone's listening to a certain degree I did I did question like these things but I guess I, [00:30:00] I recognised that I hadn't actually done much real investigation.

[00:30:04] Not to say that it must be planned, but for me to be like, it's not to be like absolute truth that we were not meant to meet, this is just complete arbitrary collision. Um, you know, I feel like when I open my eyes a little bit more, there's connections going on. It's almost like you feel like the universe doesn't understand humans or something.

[00:30:31] And so for that reason, no, this can't be the reason why. How would that be possible? But then, 


[00:30:38] Sampha: mean, we're off it. So, yeah. 

[00:30:43] Helga: So I'm trying to figure out, now that we're sitting here, the purpose of something that happened yesterday. I have a neighbor who, I've been in my apartment for 15 years, [00:31:00] who yells every day, is screaming and screaming 

[00:31:03] and screaming 

[00:31:05] Helga: about one thing or another.

[00:31:07] And 

[00:31:10] Helga: And Apparently, the family now has a puppy. And about a month ago, the puppy cried all night long, for two nights in a row. And on the third day, I left a note on the door, just talking about what happened, and could they do something about it, and could I help?

[00:31:42] I didn't get any answer from them, but okay. I hadn't heard the dog. And last night, I was I really wanted to sleep so that I could be awake for this, for this [00:32:00] conversation with you. And at about 11 o'clock, the puppy began to bark. And so I went, I knocked on the door, and already when my neighbor answered the door, she was super aggressive and defensive.

[00:32:20] And I said, hi, you know, I think you, you have a puppy or a dog there, and the dog is barking. And I had this experience about a month ago. And I don't think it's fair to me or to the other people who live in the building that we and I went on my thing and She looked at me and she said, well, we're training the puppy.

[00:32:43] I don't know what to tell you. And she slammed the door

[00:32:50] and I balled up my fist and I banged on her door. I banged on her [00:33:00] door so hard that my knuckles are still swollen today and they hurt. And when she opened the door again, she said, who do you think you are? knocking on my door like that. And I said, well, if I'm not going to sleep, you're not going to sleep either, which was not necessarily the choice I wanted to make, but the one I made in that moment.

[00:33:30] And then she said, you know what? Let me go get my shoe. And then all I could do was laugh. And I just went back into my apartment. And Even though I felt I was right, I didn't feel good. I didn't feel good at all. [00:34:00] And in that moment, I could see her as she, but I couldn't see her as we. And then I was also capable of that kind of anger.

[00:34:16] And when you talk about connection, and you talk about what's faded, and you talk about what's meant to happen, I've been trying to figure out what was in that. for me. What was in it for her. And to find the place in me that knows also that that was meant to happen, even if I don't know why. I feel that.

[00:34:53] And so I have a lot of friends who have dogs, and I found this [00:35:00] chewy thing that I'd left on my desk and I taped it to a piece of paper and I wrote the word thank you on it because the dog stopped barking. So in that moment, or in the next moment. I was able to make a different choice and I don't, I didn't feel that I was, um, moving from love and just wanting to reach, I, there wasn't any of that.

[00:35:33] I was pissed and I wanted to understand whether or not There was something else I could do in this situation that, yes, I felt was meant to happen.

[00:35:51] What should I do 

[00:35:52] with it? That's 

[00:35:57] Sampha: really interesting. So when you say you weren't moving from love, do you [00:36:00] mean, so you found No, that's a joke. 

[00:36:04] Helga: That's not a real thing. I think that That I was. That being in the argument with her, that not moving away from the energy I was receiving from her, and standing in the truth of the difficulty of that moment, because I couldn't move my body.

[00:36:28] Normally, 

[00:36:32] Helga: I could step away and just say, ugh, whatever. I think one has that choice too, but I, I literally could not move. It was as if something was rooting me to the ground and saying, what does it mean for you to stand in this too? Because I don't think that, that exchange was any [00:37:00] different than anything else that's going on right now.

[00:37:02] in the world right now. 

[00:37:06] Sampha: Sometimes it gives you like a different perspective, especially when you zoom out, you know, Oh, and, and then figuring out how to share space and different people, people being so vastly different from each other and having to cohabit. There's times in my mind where I say to myself, Oh, you're an angel.

[00:37:26] You're here to teach me something. That's just the way I kind of have been trying to see things that have been frustrating for me, or I've had to sort of battle with. I had to dig deep and sort of think about it and step out of myself and take a deep breath and be like, Okay, I could react in this way. I could go down this route, but Definitely, um, parenting is, it's kind of like a, it's, it's a, 

[00:37:52] Helga: say more about that.

[00:37:53] Sampha: In terms of like, um, patience or being able to step out of how I feel or, or recognizing [00:38:00] that someone else's perspective might be completely different from mine. But then there's also times as well where it's like,

[00:38:10] you know, I'm, I'm similarly someone who like can get frustrated, especially if I feel like I'm right or I know I'm right or like actually I'm right. So. That's another level of my feelings are valid or my reaction is valid, but then there are times where aggression is necessary, you know? In terms of being heard, maybe I might double back on that.

[00:38:35] I don't know, 

[00:38:36] Sampha: but there's times where I feel like you do need to, you know, assert yourself. I guess it's this assertion and aggression, maybe they're two different things. 

[00:38:42] Helga: Or not. And sometimes they're two sides of the same coin, right? 

[00:38:48] Sampha: Yeah. What's crazy to me is that how much, uh, you slow down time, even in what you wrote there, how it felt like you really, for me, life was [00:39:00] moving in slow motion, the way you were sort of speaking about the, how the show made you feel, and sort of expanding it and, uh, yeah, taking the time to sort of figure out what or why you're reacting in a particular way and how it is making you feel and how you should react to it and, you I don't know, I don't have the answer 

[00:39:21] either.

[00:39:22] I was counting on you. I was trying to say, I was just 

[00:39:27] Helga: like, I feel like a distractor whilst I rob the bank. I was counting on you. All right. The one question I ask everyone is what's one thing you do every day? That every person can do. Ooh, what's one thing that I do every day? Every day that, that every person can do to lead them to their next step toward their life.[00:40:00] 

[00:40:03] Sampha: Wow. That means I'll have to do something every day. , or almost every day. Yeah, or almost every day. Um. There's something that I've started to do and it's kind of inspired by things that other people have done around me or like something I do with my band before I go on stage. I have a picture of the earth in my head and I think about all the things that are going on in it and I just uh, I give thanks really.


[00:40:35] Sampha: give thanks for the life and that's it really. Yeah. 

[00:40:41] Helga: Thank you for coming here. This is the sixth season. of this show, and I've had your name on a piece of paper for five of those six years. Oh wow, okay. Knowing that when it was right, [00:41:00] we would find each other. 

[00:41:03] Sampha: So 

[00:41:03] Helga: thank you again. 

[00:41:05] Sampha: It's my pleasure. Thank you for having me and creating this space.

[00:41:11] Yeah. It's been really, uh, special. Thank you. Thank you, Sampha. Thanks.

[00:41:21] Helga: That was my conversation with Sampha. I'm Helga Davis.

[00:41:36] To connect with the show, drop us a line at helga at wnyc dot org. We'll send you a link to our show page with every episode of this and past seasons. and resources for all the artists, authors, and musicians who have come up in conversation. And if you want to support the show, please leave us a comment and rating on any of your favorite podcast platforms.[00:42:00] 

[00:42:00] And as always, thanks for listening.

[00:42:09] Season 6 of Helga is a co production of WNYC Studios and the Brown Arts Institute at Brown University. The show is produced by Alex Ambrose and David Norville. Our technical director is Sapir Rosenblatt. Our executive producer is Elizabeth Nonamaker. Original music by Michel Ndegeocello and Jason Moran.

[00:42:33] Avery Willis Hoffman is our executive producer at the Brown Arts Institute, along with producing director Jessica Wasilewski. WQXR's Chief Content Officer is Ed Yim.[00:43:00] 

[00:43:00] Sampha: After SAMHFA, Thursday, 9th of November, 2023. My head is heavy, and my mouth feels like it's full of smoke. I'm not sure which sensation to believe, so I turn over, you know, just to see. To make sure, at least, nothing is on fire. Now, more awake than not, I hear the music of gentrification outside. This building has survived almost a century, but now someone's out chipping away at its foundation and replacing a few bricks.

[00:43:36] She's getting a lift of sorts. To keep her going, going, going, till she's, we are.

[00:43:47] Once my eyes were fully open, with, you know, all that had already been thought to happen, or happening. I welcome the surprise of two crotches swinging back and forth outside my window. I blink. [00:44:00] Suspended in the air between two ropes, I see the crotches are wearing tool belts and harnesses with two yellow straps that create a substantial V between each of their legs.

[00:44:14] The one on the right thrusts the pick back and forth into concrete, while the other yells Wait, wait, wait, Animal! at the crew working below. Between their world and me, a sheet of black plastic meant to catch the dust from the work their work makes. Mix a jug out of the dust on my windowsill and my floor.

[00:44:39] I pull myself away from the movie outside to swing round and put my feet on the floor. They had been dancing, they were struck, and their dance turned into something holy. Yes, I waved my hands in the air and I didn't care who saw until. There was no sound, no sound. [00:45:00] I swayed and surrendered to the thing I knew, and I've always known to be the work of the past and the future, making itself known to the present.

[00:45:10] I held my tongue and heart, one in each hand, and tethered to myself. To the music and see I'm still wearing a pair of paper bangles around my wrist that gave me entry into the sound Making a sound now only I can hear though. They don't fully capture what I saw and felt they they Awaken and amuse the muse who wears them.

[00:45:40] It's 

[00:45:40] Sampha: beautiful.

[00:45:45] I'm gonna read this like a thousand times



Copyright © 2022 New York Public Radio. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use at for further information.

New York Public Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline, often by contractors. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of New York Public Radio’s programming is the audio record.


Produced by Alex Ambrose and David Norville