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Sampa The Great on Afro-Futurism and Reconnecting With Her Younger Self

A captivating artist taking over the global scene, Sampa The Great speaks on connecting with her younger self, working with Denzel Curry, and her upcoming Australian shows dubbed 'An Afro Future'.

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When it comes to Sampa The Great’s artistry, we know to expect nothing less than a spectacle. Her latest track ‘Lane’ delivers exactly that, exploring the realms of technology and relating it back to her younger, most free self. Transporting us to Cape Town, South Africa in the music video, Sampa is portrayed as being confronted by the inward challenges that have evolved through aging. As Sampa offers a selection of transcendent vocals and divine accompanying visuals, the symbolic elements attached to both Sampa’s lyricism and imagery are said to be layered in personal reflections and showcase to us, just how intentional and considered her artistry is. 

During the pandemic Sampa relocated back home to Zambia, to write, create and reconnect with her familial roots, re-emerging onto the global scene with her debut Coachella performance just a few weeks ago, leaving her fans back in Australia reeling with support and excitement. In just a few weeks from now, Sampa will return to Australian shores for Vivid Sydney and Melbourne’s Rising Festival, bringing with her a new live experience dubbed: An Afro-Future. We had the opportunity to sit down with Sampa to discuss her upcoming performances and what we can expect from this immersive, theatrical experience.

Firstly, I don’t even know where to begin with congratulating you for such an epic couple of years. You released Birds and the Bee9 back in 2017 and then The Return in 2019, and over the course of both those projects we’ve really witnessed you take the world by storm.
Thank you!

You just dropped your latest single ‘Lane’ featuring Denzel Curry which you mention is all about breaking the moulds that so often intend to box in artists. In saying that, how have you been able to remain true to yourself as you’ve navigated your career in music?
Staying true to my core beliefs, you know the things that I was raised with. Never be afraid to express yourself, always be proud of where you’re from, always keep family and loved ones close to you and you know, create that family within the world wherever you find it. I think there are just certain, core things that you keep with you as you grow and continue. I just don’t think I have the head to be big-headed and swayed. Like I grew up different. So, it’s just enough for me to be able to support, feed my family and be able to support myself whilst pushing my music forward. That’s about enough for me, so I guess in that sense I’ve just been able to stay true to myself and then challenge myself. For ‘Lane’, even visual wise, the things you see I didn’t even think I’d ever be able to put out (laughs). But in knowing that, this is growth that is personal vs something I feel I have to do for other people, are sort of how I maintain the boundaries that I keep. 

We have to talk about the visuals for this track because they are absolutely stunning. Please tell us more about the concept of the video and where it was shot.
Yeah, so we had the video shot in Cape Town, South Africa – our neighbouring country from Zambia. With the lovely Rochelle Nembhard who is my creative director for you know… music and stuff that may be coming out… (laughs) and Imraan Christian who is also an amazing director. It’s just about finding like-minded artists; I’ve never been Sampa the Great in my country. My career popped off when I was in Australia and everything sort of grew and I was able to work with creatives such as Sanjay, and communities like Still Nomads and Areej you know but I’ve never been able to make that same connection at home as Sampa the Great. So, this relocation back home has given me an opportunity to see the talent that’s on the continent and then work with like-minded people.

I’ve found a way to get resources from outside to push and support the talent that’s at home and it’s so exciting because you get to see the work that’s coming from there. And you know, it’s things that people wouldn’t even expect to come from home and I’m just like yeah! Why didn’t you expect that (laughs)? So, it’s exciting to be able to work with these two directors and shoot it in Cape Town. ‘Lane’ the visual is about connecting with your younger self. I think our younger selves are probably the most… us we’ve ever been. As you grow and you’re doing your music and your artistry, obviously there’s pressure to do this or do that and like you said remaining true to what I feel, is to remain true to the youngest version of you which is your freest version. So, you know the concept came about – thinking how do we connect to our younger selves in the video but also how do we do that in a way that’s interesting and edgy. We talked a lot about Sci-Fi, we don’t see a lot of African Sci-Fi and I love Sci-Fi. Afrofuturism, of course has been the theme for a while and yeah connecting to our younger selves through the technology that we see now. You know, everything is now technology-based so VR was one of the epic topics we talked about and how virtual reality is a thing we have now and so on. Just stepping into that world, we thought it’d be cool to connect with our younger selves through VR and that was kind of the theme of late. 

It’s truly such a beautiful piece of work. So, what parts of your younger self are you trying to convey in the video?
So, as we start out you see me fighting with myself. My younger self screams at me because I’ve sort of left that carefreeness behind. She reacts to that in present time, and you can’t hear any dialogue, but it was basically “why did you leave me, why did you leave me behind. Why did you leave me alone, this version of yourself – this was us happy”. So, she reacts to me and you know, she shouts at me. You see that frustration with me and my younger self as to why that version isn’t what is, in the present. You also see a more, nurturing side of myself you know when I come to terms with what I’ve left behind and reconnecting with that. There’s a lot of water aspects, a lot of rebirth aspects and the cave I feel like is a beautiful way in which nature shows rebirth. Water and cycles were another with water being one of the largest elements nature wise for us and we are all made of water. So, that felt like the thing that made sense to start with and surround the video with. We had a scene where you’re connecting to yourself in your natural form and yeah, many different versions – there’s a VR version of Sampa, there’s an angel version of Sampa, there’s a light and shadow version of Sampa which would be the one you saw on the staircase. That staircase just means the descent and the rising, you know sometimes we have our shadow selves and sometimes people see the light within ourselves… nobody’s perfect. It’s acknowledging those two realms, so there’s a lot of symbolism, I can’t explain all of it but that’s some of the information behind the visuals. 

Thank you for sharing. As the audience, we are so used to just consuming content at face value so to get a better understanding of what is symbolic to you in the clip is always interesting. So, as mentioned Denzel Curry jumped on the track with you. We’d love to know more about how you both connected and ended up working together?
I think we first met each other at Listen Out Festival if I’m not mistaken and that was a while back maybe 2018. When we connected our managers introduced each other and then we did the Like a Version together and I did ‘Black Balloons’ with him. I sort of started to see the range that Denzel has. As Hip-Hop artists you think maybe you just have to be this one way, you know be hard and do the rap thing, but he was so willing to venture into rock, to venture into anime and all this stuff that he loves. So, when Lane came about and the topics that Lane’s about you know, showing all the versions of yourself and not feeling like you have to be that one thing. He was the perfect example of an artist that does that and doesn’t feel like he has to be defined by one genre or do things just one way.

So, when we sent the song to him and explained it, he was just like for sure ill jump on it. From there it was just like yeah! (laughs) let’s do this song together, let’s make this music together. Even at Coachella just continuously talking about all the things we have in common or the things we love. Visuals being another way of expression for us and how we wanna venture into film. Just so many things regarding not just doing one thing and not expressing ourselves in one way and I feel like that’s really important for artists. So, yeah this is definitely a connection that we’ll continue. 

That’s really lovely to hear. I think for many of us Sampa the Great fans in AUS, we were so excited to watch you perform at Coachella for the first time and were impressed to see you take the stage over there. I know for me, it made me equally as excited for your upcoming shows at Vivid Sydney and Rising in Melbourne. You’ve titled these upcoming gigs as ‘An Afro Future’ – what can we expect to see at both these performances?
With Coachella and with the touring stuff, it was really built to just introduce myself to a new audience and show some of the songs. But with an Afro-Future it’s a theatrical immersion, something I’ve never really done but have loved is theatre. When you think of Afro-futurism you think of bringing culture and art [together] that is from a different lens to what we’re used to when we see African art and it’s sort of a world view of what that is. I wanted to express that in various ways, so that’s through dance, that’s through visuals, that’s through our music. I also have a band from Zambia who’s coming with me and it’s just going to be full-on immersion in a more theatrical way than I’ve done and with more exclusive songs that we’ve not shown in Coachella and on tour. So, a lot of new music – expect to hear something really different and also see a live show that I don’t think I’ve ever done. 

That’s so exciting, I can’t wait to witness it in all its glory. I also heard that KYE, Mwanje and C.FRIM will be taking the stage with you.
Yeah so KYE, Mwanje and C.FRIM are support so yeah again, artists who are doing the same thing. Doing things their way and working in genres that don’t necessarily have Black artists as leads, especially KYE who is doing Pop. Mwanje’s gone a different route in a genre that she’s recreating for herself which is amazing and C.FRIM is just really expanding what you can see from a DJ. I don’t even like calling her a DJ because that’s not what she is. I just feel like if we’re throwing out the term Afro-futurism and showing our art in different ways that are limitless, these are the people that are doing it. 

So, in relation to your relationship with each of them, how did you end up connecting?
KYE started off doing my backing vocals. I’m often an artist who doesn’t like to perform things just as they are on track so to be able to see KYE’s artistry and the way she would arrange different vocals for our live shows was just like you are top tier. Just watching her grow, come into herself, and release her own music, she feels like a young sister to me. So, it’s just that thing of you know, I’m a young mentor to someone and I definitely support everything that she does and want her to be a part of my journey as well. So, that’s KYE. Mwanje is obviously my sister. I think I’ve always said in every interview that Mwanje is the person who we knew in the family was gonna be the artist. I was sort of the wildcard like this was the long shot but Mwanje was always gonna be the artist. Even just seeing her recent work and what she was able to do. Contrary to popular belief, Mwanje did those videos herself. I just watch her do that and it gives me the confidence and courage to do what I’ve just done now, with releasing ‘Lane’. Also, definitely stayed true to the ethos of family and keeping Mwanje a part of the vision, so for An Afro-Future there was no question as to whether she was going to be a part of it. C.FRIM for me, I was inspired when I saw her DJ one night and just the way she was able to express her personality through her performance as well, was something I have always seen in myself. From there it’s just been constant support and everything she does I’m just like you’re dope. You know when you see an artist you love, who is themselves… you get inspired! 

Our community of Black creatives in AUS is so powerful and ever-growing now. As an artist that is continually shaping the Hip-Hop, RnB, Soul type sounds coming out of Australia, what can you pass onto other artists hoping to navigate a similar path?
I’m shaping it?! Wow! (laughs)

Of course you are!
I think the reason why myself and a lot of the OG artists, especially Black artists in Australia – the reason we did some of the groundwork is so that younger Black artists can walk through those doors and feel free enough to express themselves fully. Not having to worry about whether they call themselves Australian or any of those things that we had to sort of, break down beforehand. I think right now is just a no fear era. I would hope that any Black artist in Australia who is releasing or coming into themselves now, holds their head high and releases their art without any fear. I think we are reaching a point where we don’t have to be worried about expressing our Blackness. I think we’ve passed that point. So, just feel free enough to express yourself fully, express all the inspirations you have and it doesn’t necessarily have to be things that are considered Black music. Express yourself in any range and don’t feel like you have any limits cause the reason why we try and break those doors down is so that you can do that. So, yeah feel free to be yourself in any and all ways and don’t have fear of what anyone thinks of your story. 

100%. We know just how important it is to lift our communities up and through the challenges that we face. Thank you so much, Sampa for being a changemaker and pushing us all forward. It’s been really lovely to speak with you and good luck with everything that’s to come.
Thank you!

Follow Sampa The Great for more and make sure to grab tickets to her upcoming performances ‘An Afro-Future’ in Sydney and Melbourne.

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