Soul singer Sampha has been awarded the 2017 Hyundai Mercury Prize for his mournful and intimate album, Process.
The singer, who for a long time was better known as a guest vocalist on other people’s records, beat Ed Sheeran and Stormzy to win the £25,000 prize.
“I feel like I’m dreaming!” said the south London singer, before thanking his parents for giving him and his family “the best upbringing possible”.
His album ruminates on the grief he felt after his mother died of cancer.
It is best exemplified by the ballad (No One Knows Me) Like The Piano, which talks about the instrument his mother taught him to play in his childhood home.
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“At the time… it was quite important for me to write music,” Sampha told the BBC about the making of his debut record.
“It helped me through everything. So it’s this weird kind of document. But it’s nice, I guess, because I’ll have it for the rest of my life.”
Born in London to Sierra Leonean parents in 1988, the singer’s real name is Sampha Sissay
He emerged on MySpace almost a decade ago and was quickly sought out by dance producers for his honeyed, soulful vocals.
After appearing on records by SBTRKT and Jessie Ware, he was sought out by US R&B royalty, and can be heard on Beyonce’s Mine, Drake’s Too Much and Solange’s Don’t Touch My Hair.
His own debut took 10 years to appear, as he cared for his ailing mother and struggled with his self-confidence.
“It took me quite a while to feel like I was emotionally stable [enough] to write my own record,” said the 28-year-old.
Since it came out in February, the reaction, he said, had been “lovely”.
“People have said it helped them… I can’t really ask for anything more,” he said.
Kate Tempest’s state-of-the-nation album Let Them Eat Chaos had been the favourite to win, although it was always a close contest between her, Sampha and art-rock band Glass Animals.
Process was chosen as the victor by a panel of judges that included Marcus Mumford, Jessie Ware, Ella Eyre, Radio 1’s Clara Amfo and jazz musician Jamie Cullum.
They said the deliberation was the prize’s “longest ever”, even after last year’s jury was split between David Bowie’s swansong Blackstar and the eventual winner, Skepta.
Full details of the judges’ debate have yet to be revealed, but Mumford told the BBC: “We were only allowed to talk about positive things. So I shut up quite a lot.”
Sampha accepted his award from actor Idris Elba, and immediately dedicated it to his late parents.
“My mum would be very proud. My dad would probably be embarrassingly proud,” he said afterwards.
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