Things to do: Samm Henshaw, House of Blues, June 8, 2022

We are big fans of messy soul, the excellent new album by British-Nigerian soul singer Samm Henshaw, so we were already aware of a connection between the artist and Houston when we started our phone conversation to discuss his June 8 appearance here at House. of Blues. One song from the LP, which was released in January, features Houston’s Tobe Nwigwe. Before asking about this pairing, Henshaw told us about a different association he has with H-town.

“I have family in Houston,” Henshaw said. “I’ve been going to Houston since I was four years old. Houston was the only part of America I went to for about 10 years,” he shared. “Houston is like a second home to me.

“I’ve never played there before, it’s so weird. I really can’t overstate how great I was in Houston before making music, so I think it’s really fun to be able to come back and make music there and do it right. But, yeah, as far as I know, it’s just my family in my music there in Houston,” he said with a laugh. “So we’ll see if people show up.”

We anticipate that fans will indeed pack HOB’s Bronze Peacock Room for Henshaw’s “homecoming,” especially those who love the old-school contemporary genre of Henshaw R&B practices. Maybe they caught it The Late Late Show with James Corden earlier this year or opening for artists like Chance the Rapper and Tori Kelly. Perhaps they read the praises of Vibe Where NPR on the singles and EPs he released before messy soul, his first complete disc. The album was recently named “a timeless classic” by Atwood magazine and “an ironic, understated take on the modern self” by The Guardian. Some may even have caught the south Londoner on his first real outing as a US headliner last year.

“It was kind of a small tour, but we did our first big hit streak last year and it went really well. We played in New York, LA and Atlanta. It was a lot of fun, really cool, the crowd was great, everyone was really welcoming,” Henshaw said. “I’ve been doing showcase type things in America for maybe the last five or six years, but I feel like the Last year was the first time we did our own thing for the fans. And this is the second time we’ve done it. I’m really excited.”

U.S. too. We try not to classify Henshaw’s music. Other people have mentioned Sam Cooke, John Legend or Kirk Franklin. But, there is a buoyancy in Henshaw’s music. Whether he’s singing about having chicken wings and curly fries with that special someone, being broke, or using life’s painful moments to grow, the music is laced with optimism and joy. ‘positive vibes. There’s even a song called “Joy” on the album, its closing track.

“Many people I know will speak the gospel. I guess it’s because I have a song called “Church,” and yes, I grew up in the church and my dad is a reverend. I grew up with gospel but it’s weird, it’s almost never what I listen to when I’m working on music,” he admitted. “I think it’s because growing up it was so ingrained in me and the things that I was learning, naturally it came from gospel – the kinds of chords and progressions that I was learning were that kind of So I naturally think what goes into my music, it comes from that place and soul music, I grew up with that a lot. Everything I heard was kind of connected.

“It just kind of kind of kinda worked into everything I’ve done. There was never really a lot of thought behind it or going out of my way of listening to this stuff to put it in there,” he said. “I grew up with a lot of hip-hop, a lot of country music, actually.”

Country music? In South London? We are reminded that he often had boots on the pitch in Houston growing up and explored that further.

“I love country music. I love the way country musicians write, especially I think there’s something about the imagery, the mental imagery that country and folk musicians create. I love obviously their melodies. There’s a simplicity to what they do, but also such a beauty. You can feel everything. I think one of the main things that I really love about country music and folk music, it’s that there’s a feeling and an emotion that you get when listening to these type of songs and I’ve always loved how it pulls you emotionally.

“Trying to find a way to connect that in my music has always been really important,” he continued. “Most of the time, what I’m always looking for when creating music is a feeling. And I always try to imitate the feeling. It’s not necessarily a sound. I don’t try to copy a sound I heard, I try to copy a feeling and I always try to put it into what I do.

We asked how SWAT’s Tobe became part of Henshaw’s creative process.

“You know, when someone’s just a great musician and a human being, you love them and admire them. I remember seeing his Tiny Desk first and I was like this one had to be one of the best I’ve seen. I’m a huge Tiny Desk fan. There was probably a time when I just went down this rabbit hole of different people’s Tiny Desk performances,” Henshaw said. “I remember seeing his and being super intrigued. The songs were beautiful, the band was awesome, everything was just amazing.

To learn more about Nwigwe, Henshaw did what many new music fans do.

“You go to Instagram. Instagram is like the new Google. It’s a bit like this kind of search engine. So, I went to check who he was and to my surprise he was already following me. And I panicked. I was like, ‘What?! Does this guy know who I am? I didn’t know he knew who I was and I didn’t know who he was and I instantly felt bad for not knowing who he was earlier.

Henshaw said he eventually contacted Nwigwe and they connected and stayed in touch. He said he had already written “Take Time”, the track with Nwigwe, for the album. There was open space on the song for guest vocals.

“Tobe instantly came to mind because I felt like Tobe was the kind of rapper who could rap about anything. Let me not even say rapper, but that’s the kind of artist who can be on anything because obviously he also sings on stuff,” Henshaw noted. “He’s the first person that came to mind because he can practically doing it all, so I felt like he would be on something like that would be a breeze and it would be interesting to see how he would approach a song like this. He came and was great. It was amazing.”

Once we heard messy soul, we went back for the back catalog. We told Henshaw it would be fun to see him live for the first time and asked if there was anything he learned for his live show from all those Tiny Desk viewings.

“One of my natural things to do is just watch live performances. I’m such a big fan of live performances so I’ll watch if I have a favorite artist or maybe just someone I don’t know. no, I’ll watch a live performance because I’m always interested to see how different artists from different genres approach their live performances and how they approach what they do.

“I wouldn’t say I was looking for anything in particular when I watch, I just watch to learn and take something away from it,” he added. “I literally couldn’t tell you what I’m looking for, I love live performances so it’s always great to see someone’s interpretation and to see how someone would approach live performances, what whatever kind.”

Samm Henshaw returns “home” to Houston on Wednesday, June 8. With Bando at the Bronze Peacock Room of House of Blues, 1204 Caroline. Doors at 7 p.m. for this show open to the public, standing room only. $20.

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Raymond I. Langston