Sampa The Great on the rise of African music: “It’s dope that it’s coming to life”

Sampa’s new album, ‘As Above, So Below’, is due out in September

Sampa The Great has shared her take on the rise of African music in the western mainstream, expressing both excitement and caution.

Sampa was born in the Zambian city of Ndola, and spent much of her youth there and in Botswana. In her early adulthood, she relocated to the US before moving permanently to Australia in 2013. Although it was in Australia that Sampa found her own mainstream success, the artist never distanced herself from her African heritage. As she said in the cover story for July’s issue of NME Australia, Sampa’s connection to her cultural roots is what formed the basis for her forthcoming second album, ‘As Above, So Below’.

Conceptually, she described the record as “hybrid music”, explaining that in the studio, she would say to her producer, “Let’s use the music we grew up on and expand it to a different language.” In accomplishing her feat, all of the artists that Sampa collaborated with – including rappers Joey Bada$$ and Kojey Radical, Zamrock pioneers W.I.T.C.H. and her own sister, Mwanjé – are of African descent.

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Speaking on the current wave of African artists in mainstream pop and hip-hop circles, Sampa cited the likes of Drake and Beyoncé – as well as the Marvel Studios film Black Panther – as pioneers, paving the way for artists like herself, Wizkid, Tems and Burna Boy to make strides in the landscape. But, as NME‘s Sosefina Fuamoli wrote in her profile, Sampa also noted “the dark cloud of exploitation, which is never far away”.

Sampa expounded: “We’re so used to being the ghost-writer without the credit. It’s dope that it’s coming to life, but it’s such a precious story that if it’s not told right, it can fall under the same rock that we’re still trying to get out from underneath. African music is so much about soul and spirit that you can tell when it’s stripped away. It would give the wrong narrative of us, that we don’t need, on top of all the narratives that are already on top of us.

“Am I excited? Yes, because it means that we don’t need to explain so much of our music when we’re working with others anymore. You can see that it’s out there, you can see that people are willingly wanting to explore and educate themselves about our music – that’s beautiful. The negatives are that if they go beyond where they are, it could leave us at a point where we’re not in control of our own art.”

Ultimately, Sampa expressed fearlessness in her ambition to have her art fully embrace her African culture. She added: “We’re not going to spend our time explaining to you why we’re uncomfortable. We also have joy, we also have laughter. We also have excitement, passion, fear, love. We’re gonna show you everything.”

Elsewhere in her NME cover story, Sampa opened up about her relationship with Australia, explaining that over the past decade, she “could talk shit because [she] could leave”. As a vocally determined Black artist in Australia, she said that her goal was “just to inspire people and break some walls”.

“There is such a pressure to be a person of colour in Australia who has a platform, or who is in the public view,” she said of the pressures and frustrations she felt in the country. “You often feel like you have to have this armour or persona. I don’t like using that word, because I don’t feel like I was two different people. I do think I put huge pressure on myself to be perfect in order to be an ambassador.”

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‘As Above, So Below’ is due out on September 9 via Loma Vista. So far, Sampa has shared two singles: April’s Denzel Curry-assisted ‘Lane’ and last month’s ‘Never Forget’. Pre-orders for the album can be found here.

Sampa recently debuted her new stage show, An Afro Future, at Vivid LIVE in Sydney and Melbourne’s RISING festival. In a five-star review, NME’s Karen Gwee described it as “a production that was intentionally conceived and plotted”, while highlighting “Sampa’s whole-hearted engagement with the crowd” and the artist’s “charismatic and expressive” energy.

“With An Afro Future, Sampa the Great had created her own table,” Gwee continued. “In the Forum, for a few hours, it was Sampa’s world – a joyous, liberated paradigm – and we were all living in it.”

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