Sampa the Great is a Zambian-born singer, songwriter and rapper who is poised to take a huge leap. The Melbourne-based artist has been on an upward trajectory since her 2017 mixtape ‘Birds and the BEE9’ was released on Ninja Tune subsidiary label Big Dada. A critically and commercially successful project, she landed the crown of Australia’s leading black female artist with its release. Influences of Lauryn Hill and Mos Def are weaved in throughout with both its soulful, jazzy theme backed up by introspective lyrical content.
We spoke to Sampa about her musical inspirations and what “home” means to her.
Photo credit: Michaela DutkovàWhat was your first experience with music?
I believe it was a kitchen party/bridal shower, when I was 7.
The women of our community were singing together and to me it was just the most beautiful thing I ever heard.
Hearing all their voices singing in unison, showed me how music can connect us all into one voice.
What was your childhood like?
I lived in Zambia till I was two, then my family moved to Botswana where I was raised in Gaborone . Most of my childhood and parts of my adulthood were spent in Africa between these two places.
My childhood was very expressive. We were taught by our parents to not be afraid of our voices or opinions. We also come from a family that loves to entertain and make people laugh, so it’s not a far stretch that the kids would turn out to be entertainers.
Our parents didn’t come from a wealthy background at all and had to work for a chance to send their children to school and university. No inheritance, no connection, nothing!
Being raised from a Bemba mom and Tumbuka father always reminded me of the legacy I come from, especially in a world that’s hell bent on tearing you down.
My upbringing was also a marriage of two cultures, as I was raised between the two countries and often would look for where I would fit in and which was home to me.
That small displacement was the basis of my recent project “The Return”, which in the grand scheme of things touches on the topic of displacement. Especially that which is felt by the African Diaspora.
Your first introduction to Hip- Hop?
My first introduction to hip hop was through my cousin Chewe Sunkutu. He played Tupac “Changes” to me on cassette tape. I was 8/9 years old.
When I heard it, it was basically spoken word with beautiful melody. I just thought it was the most beautiful expression ever. It was also huge way to communicate what I feel, through spoken word and music in the way that he did.
How has music been a coping mechanism for you during these times?
It’s been my comfort,.. you know?
It’s either my healing, my therapy, my voice or my comforter. When I feel lost, misunderstood, uneasy or broken music is my source or means to communicate.
It has always been for me.
What does Africa mean to you?
Africa to me is my origin. My beginnings.
As it has been to those who birthed me and those who birthed them, onwards.
Without that source I think we would seize to exist. Put lightly.
How did you think the time in Africa shaped you?
My time in Africa wasn’t a vacation. I’m from and was raised at home and it’s always my return when I come back from where I’m based.
What it has solidified is that home is the source for a lot in this world. Spirituality, Resources etc.
To know I come from that is a blessing.
Where do you find inspiration for your fashion style?
Lol. I believe it is a mesh of everything. I’m very eclectic when it comes to fashion sense. If it’s a statement we’re making it. Always comfortable and true to myself though.
How would you describe your sound?
My sound is a cumulation of soul, Zambian folk, hip hop and spoken word. Places I’ve been and their influences/stories are also reflected in my music. Don’t think theirs one sure way to describe it really…
What has been the most memorable experience so far in your career?
My first shows at home! A big 360 for me, as that is were my dreams of being an artist were birthed. I have full intentions of my goal of building a music school at home. All resources,experiences I’m collating till this date is towards that final goal.
Home has always been the goal!
How did you break into the Australian Market?
I believe I brought something different to the industry, which was my particular story and perspective of where Im from and how I’ve lived..
You have travelled and lived in a number of different places. How has Hip-hop played a role in those moves and transition?
I’ve been to these places through the opportunity of Hip hop music. It’s created that for me and I will be forever grateful to the originators of this culture and it’s influence around the world.
So, Lockdown has been lifted and you’re allowed to invite any musician and they will accept the invitation. Who are you inviting?
Lauryn Hill please!
What’s next for you?
Visual Arts and Film.
I have always been interested in visually representing who I am and where I’m from. More so now it doesn’t necessarily have to be connected to music. Looking to venture more in that avenue.
What artist are you hoping to collaborate with in the near future
Lauryn Hill seems to be my answer for most. As well as Thandiswa Mazwai and Nathan Nyirenda and various rappers,musicians form Zambia.
Watch her new video: