“The Rise Of Sampa”: Sampa The Great On Storytelling, Songwriting & Growth

Sampa The Great (aka Sampa Tembo) has captivated the Australian music scene with her spirited neo-soul and socially-attuned hip-hop. She is a live – and festival – fave.

Born in Zambia, and raised in Botswana, Sampa was already pursuing a music career when, following a stint Stateside, she arrived in Sydney to study audio engineering. In 2015 the spoken-word poet, MC, singer and musician generated buzz with her stellar The Great Mixtape. A huge Sampa fan, Urthboy invited the vocalist to guest on his single ‘Second Heartbeat’ alongside OKENYO. Sampa also befriended REMI (MC Remi Kolawole and producer Sensible J) and has since worked closely with their House Of Beige crew – initially blessing REMI’s ‘For Good’.

As part of the Red Bull Sound Select scheme, Sampa then issued two HERoes EPs – the latest instalment a collaboration with Estelle and cred Los Angeles beatmaker Rakhi. In November, she dropped an ambitious second mixtape, Birds And The BEE9 – her inaugural release on Big Dada, a subsidiary of the UK’s prestigious Ninja Tune stable. It crosses hip-hop, soul, jazz, gospel and reggae (peep the singles ‘Rhymes To The East’ and ‘Bye River’).

Today Sampa, currently Melbourne-based, is in-demand internationally. Indeed, she recently supported Joey Bada$$ in Europe.

Most recently, Sampa performed at Sunset20°North – a free month-long festival of music, food and culture in Sydney’s Barangaroo Reserve. The parkland is named after Barangaroo, leader of the Cammeraygal people – and, in her honour, Sunset20°North has a diverse, and female-centric – program.

Catch Sampa’s chat with Music Feeds in the wake of her landmark launch party performance at Sunset20°North, below.

Music Feeds: We’ve been told that you are in Botswana as you answer our questions. What can you tell us about your surrounds at this exact moment? What do you most enjoying doing when there?

Sampa The Great: Yes, I’m in my bedroom right now and there a couple birds outside chirping while my mum is downstairs laughing at a show. I most enjoy making music, eating and being around friends, family and community.

MF: In November you dropped Birds And The BEE9, which feels more like an album than a mixtape in many ways – it’s so intricate musically. How did you approach this project?

STG: I knew the sounds I wanted for this project and what I wanted it to be centred around. I think the most important thing was making it known to the artists I was working with what story I wanted to tell and having that translated to music.

MF: The songs on Birds And The BEE9 variously feel cathartic, pointed and empowering. What kinds of life experiences and observations influenced your lyrics?

STG: I think the different experiences that come with growing up. There’s not one thing to single out but I hope they are all expressed in the different songs.

MF: What is the most interesting response you’ve had to any of the new songs?

STG: This response – “I’m pretty sure I was with you writing the song. Wherever you are”

MF: You are now aligned with Big Dada/Ninja Tune stable – which is amazing. Are you planning an album?

STG: Well, music is always being made. That’s a given.

MF: Joey Bada$$ just toured Australia – but you opened for him in Europe late last year. How was he as a tour buddy?

STG: Joey is dope man – he always has a great energy about him. He’s a passionate artist and an amazing performer.

MF: One of your coolest collabs lately was the Native Tongues-like song ‘Your Orbit’ with Ecca Vandal – who is known for her blistering punk rock. Is there another unexpected artist you would love to work with?

STG: Unexpected to everyone else, I guess! It’s more likely that I collaborate with the people I call fam in some shape or form.

MF: What was the last album you loved?

STG: Daniel Caesar : Freudian

MF: What else has Sampa The Great got coming up for 2018?

STG: More growth in all aspects. The rise of Sampa.

Catch the full roster of artists performing across February at Sunset20°North right here.

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