Artists from across multiple disciplines adopt pseudonyms often with purpose and meaning to expand ones artistic intention. Sampa The Great is a name that invites readers, upon reading her name for the first time, into a world of curiosity. How ‘Great’ is she and what makes her Great? I first came across Sampa The Great working in publicity for Sydney based soul inspired Hip Hop outfit Yum Yum, where Sampa The Great played support.
Her petite stature was posed like a stoic Queen, observing her surroundings, focused and ready, yet chilled and fun. Barely a name whispered in the local Sydney music community, Sampa The Great has managed join the Wondercore Island family (Hiatus Kaiyote, Oscar Key Sung), premiered on Okayplayer, to capitvating Melbourne & Sydney in under less than 6 months, with a string of local blogs and publications lapping up her lyrically potent, visceral and genre-bending sounds – thanks to her producer Dave Godriguez. In addition to the online affection, Sampa The Great has been added to some of Australia’s most exclusive festivals from WOMADelaide, Sugar Mountain Festival and FBI SMACS to name a few. All this off the back of one mixtape release.
But what makes a person great? You can reflect on your own understanding on the human condition to answer that question. But for Sampa The Great, greatness is a quality she has in bucketloads. Her lyrics are deeply reflective, seasoned, textured, and insightful often expounding upon the human condition, self efficacy and womanhood. Her greatness has yet to be revealed in its entirety, but that’s okay. She’s young and has the world at her Fingertips.
Who is Sampa The Great?
Still discovering. ln short A female poet and singer songwriter who expresses through music,poetry and visual art.
What was the inspiration behind the name?
The inspiration was “What is something you thought you never would be” and that was great, so I put it next to my name.
You migrated to Australia from Zambia at a young age, can you give us a little background on the move and how that impacted your life?
No actually, I was born in Zambia and raised in Botswana my whole life from age 2. I have only been in Australia for 2 years on my student visa.
Who introduced you to Hip Hop/Rapping and at one point did you think, “Yes, this is my calling. Music is my calling”?
My cousin Chewe Sunkutu, he used to stay with us when we were younger. We considered him our brother. I remember walking upstairs to his room and walked in and he was listening to Tupac “Changes”. It captivated me so much I forgot what I went there for. Then came “Till The End Of Time”. Both still pivotal to my growth today.
I don’t really remember the day it happened and the instance that made it happen for me to say this is my calling, but from then I’ve been striving not to be the best rapper,singer or even artist ,now. Just the best Sampa.
In what way has your heritage influenced your relationship with your music?
I think heritage/culture will still follow you regardless of what artform you do. So every ballad, every spit is influenced from where I come from.
Who are your musical influences?
Too many to count and growing. Zambian Traditional folk songs all of them! African traditional music too many to list. Then out to the world with Lauryn Hill, Tupac, Mos Def, Nina Simone, Thandiswa Mazwai, Asa, K’Naan, Fugees, A Tribe Called Quest there’s too many! Chance The Rapper, Kendrick Lamar, Busta Rymes. I’d say maybe the first 4 starting from Lauryn initiated the want to take it professional, all African music were always instilled.
Enlighten us with who you are listening to at the moment.
A bit of everything. Frank Ocean “Channel Orange” a lot lately. 2 weeks ago it was only Hiatus Kaiyote, I’m sharpening my vocals. Fugees as well. Too creative. Though everyone needs to listen to “The Dusty Foot Philosopher” album by K’naan.
You have a great chemistry with your producer Dave Godriguez, how did this music relationship come about?
We met at a Jazz and Hip Hop Freestyle Jam that happens at Foundry 616 on Harris Street every Friday. We had such a good connect and chemistry. After working on some stuff with the legends G.O.D a group he has, we decided to work together. It’s been a very transparent and growing friendship he’s awesome.
In such a short amount of time, you’ve reached a mass awareness that not a lot of musicians experience early on in their careers. Why do you think your music resonates with the Australian music landscape?
I don’t know to be honest, maybe they like different and weird. :”) I’m just very appreciative of it all.
Did your parents take your stance towards music seriously where are soon to be playing major festivals around Australia, all off the back of one mixtape release?
Um not really, seemed like a hobby at first for them. Now it’s a bit like “Ohh ok”, she taking this real serious. Hehe. But I know they are proud.
Being female obviously impacts on your musical perspective, how important is it to celebrate this part of yourself?
Very!, I think one of the blessings I’ve had is a father who would teach my sisters and I to stand up for ourselves and that we have a voice. He didn’t treat us just as females, he didn’t put that on us and I feel when you go out into the world and see how undermined and mistreated a female is especially being taught like that, You often break the mould. I was raised around a lot of females as well and they were so strong and bold, even though it seemed like the men were in charge. We all knew who was the captain.
It’s important for me to recognize that in myself and influence it on other women. Especially facing the trials of being female and African. I feel the essence of a female also is lost. The portrayal of a female now is so narrow that it leaves those who are out of the lines feeling lost and weird.
In life, whether we are fighting a war in our minds – values, truths, the self, or fighting a physical war, what is Sampa The Great fighting for?
All those things and acceptance and love of self.
Your lyrics – something I gravitate toward , reveals a level of maturity, insight and self truths that can only be learned from knowing a deeper level of human understanding. Something that comes a later stage in life for some. Do you have to create a particular space to write or does it naturally flow?
It naturally flows. It’s funny I love laughing and talking and as a kid was often that one making everyone laugh. So I think some people mistake me a lot for a talker (which I am). But I’m more so an observer. I observe a whole lot even when you think I’m not. That’s why I’ve managed to gather such truths in my small life span. I observe, I seek truth as well.
“Creativity, laughter, purpose and rhythms” is your slogan, how important are these truths to you and why?
Well when I went back home last summer, there was such a pressure to be this hard rap chick, always freestyling of the dome hard chick hard. And I wasn’t that. I’m still not and don’t think I will ever be. I always say I’m more interested in singing vocal chants than battle raps. Being too strict and too hard and perfection, it stunted my creativity. I did not enjoy making the art anymore, I didn’t have fun. I refuse to label my music but especially for Hip Hop I feel there’s such a sport theme to it. I kind of disagree with Kendrick on that. If you ran from here to there, that’s the goal, then seeing who can do it faster. Art is about uniqueness, sometimes you don’t have to run.
All in all I think my point was, that sort of competitive hard stuff sort of made me loose my laughter for the art I was creating and that disabled my creativity, knocked my rhythms and messed with my purpose which is to inspire not to break down or compete. Because everything just starts to sounds like the same stuff, no uniqueness. No art. I don’t know those are my thoughts as of now.
Who would you ultimately like to record an album with in 1. Australia 2. Internationally?
1. I don’t know yet in Australia, Im still to discover more musicians.
So, one of my favourite tracks I rinse and repeat is by The Beatles “Long and Winding Road” – yeah, sure it’s soft.. I’m not embarrassed to admit that, but the lyrical content and arrangement is incredible. Currently, it’s “Really Love” by D’angelo. Rinsed and Repeated x1000!! What’s one track you rinse and repeat, that you never grow tired of and why has this track made an impact on you?
Tupac “Changes” and “Till The End Of Time”. 15 years rinsed and repeated.
What have you learnt about the music industry thus far and what do you want to improve about it?
That’s a really hard question that I kind of don’t want to answer. Not in terms of my camp we all good. My manager is the dopest period. Mostly you have to know what you want to do and how far you want to reach. Then comes means to do it and so on. More communication with the artist and business. More individuality and realness from artists.
If you weren’t doing music, what would you be doing instead?
Sprinting, I’m Usain Bolt Jr. Well when I was in shape. If someone gets me a ticket to Rio, my goodness there’s going to be some serious love. For real ,for real.
What’s your definition of Grindin’?
Maybe I’ll use what music has been to me as an example. I wanted to do music, whether professional or not. It’s what I saw myself doing. I allowed no other thought to enter my head that would compete with that reality and slowly worked to make that reality exist.
Interview by Krystel Diola