Samm Henshaw is raising us higher with his soulful and positive pop music


“I am feeling nervous as always,” says Samm Henshaw of his pre-show jitters. We’re backstage at London’s Hoxton Hall and it’s nearly time for his sold out gig to begin. The 24-year-old singer songwriter is busy distracting himself by playing keepie uppie with a football, but how else does he get in the zone? “I say a prayer and then once I’m on the stage, and I’m two songs in, I’m okay.”

Henshaw has been very okay of late with his first new music in two years eliciting no small excitement. In June, the upbeat, soulful song ‘How Does It Feel?’ became Mistajam’s Jam Hot Record on BBC 1Xtra while adroitly reminded us what we’ve been missing. And now comes the jaunty ‘Broke’, which is alive with blazing horns, hand claps, fuzzy keys and his big, bluesy, moreish voice. “It’s about being in a relationship and your girlfriend is telling you to fix up and get your act together, which is great,” he explains. “I think we should be challenged by the ones who love us and we love. They should be able to push us to be the best people that we can be.”

In the video for, and premise behind ‘Broke’, he’s been fired from Five Guys and hasn’t left his apartment - or pair of Calvin Klein boxer shorts - for a week, with only a teddy bear and video games for company. But this fictional dropout version of himself lives in a parallel universe that Henshaw’s Nigerian parents would never have countenanced for their son, Iniabasi Samuel Henshaw, as he grew up in south London. “My mum was always on my case, she didn’t want me to end up a bum,” he recalls with one of his warm, honest smiles. “Me and my sister were raised to understand our culture and heritage and came to know that Nigeria is a pretty incredible place.”

Henshaw was also raised in the church by his pastor father, his first love of gospel music forming the early foundations of his own sound. Add to that his voracious listening habits ranging from rock and jazz to afrobeats (“I love the melodies and the simple beauty of the lyrics.”), and a natural talent for piano, guitar and percussion, and it was a no brainer that he chose to study music at university. “It never occurred to me that I could do this,” he says, ‘this’ referring to becoming an actual, bona fide pop star. “I enjoyed music, I was good at it, so I was planning on becoming a teacher.”

“Pharrell said, ‘Now I understand why people are hyping you - your talent is crazy.’”

Fate had other ideas though and Henshaw signed to Columbia Records before the end of his studies. His debut EP The Sound Experiment dropped in 2016, followed by The Sound Experiment 2, which were hailed everywhere from Teen Vogue to GQ and landed him a Spotify Session. He’s also toured with Chance the Rapper, Rag ‘n’ Bone Man and James Bay and recently spent two days in the studio with Pharrell Williams. “At first I thought it was a hoax or that he’d cancel. It seemed ludicrous that Pharrell would want to work with me,” he says. “But it ended up being two incredible days and two incredible songs. We got to know each other and he said, ‘Now I understand why people are hyping you - your talent is crazy.’ I was like, wow. He’s such a wise man and opened my mind to a lot of different things.”


And with that it’s time to shine. Moments later Henshaw steps out with his band and launches into a set that smoothly mixes older tracks such as ‘Only Wanna Be With You’, with new ones including ‘Church’, which if the reaction of the crowd is anything go to go by, is destined to become the anthem of his soon-come debut album. Watching him perform tonight, it’s clear that this young artist was born to make grown music with huge appeal. In no time at all he creates an old school, feel good and inclusive atmosphere, and even slips in a quick sing-a-long to Frankie Valli’s ‘I Love You Baby’ and Andy Williams’ ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off You’. But this is one future crooner who has his own sights set high. “London, will you vibe with me?” he asks the room full of fans. And the answer on this sweltering summer evening is a resounding “Yeah, yeah, yeah.”

‘Broke’ by Samm Henshaw is out now on Columbia Records. He plays The Scala in London on 30 October 2018

Photography Jermaine Francis
Words Helen Jennings

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Published on 11/08/2018