Sampha is surprise winner of Mercury Prize 2017

Singer-songwriter is praised for his ‘truly astonishing debut album’

Sampha at Mercury Prize ceremony
Soul singer Sampha at the Mercury Prize ceremony in London yesterday
(Image credit: This content is subject to copyright.)

London soul singer Sampha has taken the top prize at the 2017 Mercury Awards for his album Process despite bookies tipping the Glass Animals to win.

The 28-year-old singer, from Morden, south London, wowed the judges with his R&B meditation on his mother’s death from cancer and his fears for his own health.

In a mostly scandal-free year, here is everything you need to know about the awards at a glance:

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Lack of excitement

Even before the awards were announced, Alex Petridis in The Guardian said that while there were strong artists among the Mercury nominees, including Stormzy, Kate Tempest, J Hus and Loyle Carner, the judges’ eagerness to support “stodgy indie rock” has meant that more “visionary albums have been overlooked”.

Roisin O’Connor in The Independent agreed, saying there was “less of the hype or anticipation than you would expect for the most prestigious award in the UK music industry”.

The lead-up to the awards feels less unpredictable, he said, and more like “the panel selects albums it feels it is supposed to”.

Judges got it right

Nevertheless, O’Connor felt the panel “got it right” by choosing Sampha, and it was ”gratifying to see such an artist recognised for what is a “truly astonishing debut album”. O’Connor said he didn’t know Sampha was going to win, and called it a “beautiful surprise”.

Music website Happy called Sampha “a big cuddly teddybear” and praised “the handsome and lovable genius” behind the “tearjerker” album Process. The site notes that the Mercury shortlist was a “dastardly cohort” that included Alt-J, Stormzy, Ed Sheeran and The xx, so Sampha’s win was “well deserved”.

Sampha’s mother

Sampha’s mother became an inevitable talking point as the singer’s winning album was written in response to her death.

The BBC called it a “mournful and intimate” album that “ruminates on the grief he felt after his mother died of cancer”.

The album is “best exemplified” by the ballad (No One Knows Me) Like the Piano, about the instrument his mother taught him to play in his childhood home.

The singer, who is best known for performing the work of other artists, says it took him ten years to develop his solo album while also caring for his sick mother and struggling with his self-confidence: “It took me quite a while to feel like I was emotionally stable [enough] to write my own record.”

Idris Elba gaffe

Guest presenter Idris Elba, who can usually do no wrong, ruffled a few feathers when he suggested that the Mercury Prize celebrated “English” music. A number of disgruntled Twitter users pointed out that the Mercurys are for British music. Angry Old Man suggested that Elba needed to be “educated” about the awards.

Others wondered if Scottish acts Primal Scream and Franz Ferdinand would be asked to hand back their prizes.

Lack of Female winners

In The Guardian, Ben Beaumont-Thomas noted that there has not been a female winner since 2011, when PJ Harvey claimed the prize for a second time.

Beaumont isn’t alone. Others took to Twitter to express their disappointment at the lack of female representation in the winners’ circle.

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