“I find the most beauty and value in being vulnerable,” Sampa Tempo told the hundreds of Melburnians who’d braved the cold for the rapper’s first show in the city in over two years. To cheers, she added: “Music connects us so much that it brings you all to this one space, just to listen to this Zambian gyal rap!”
Sampa the Great often injected her second An Afro Future show, performed on the opening night of the RISING festival, with such addresses to the crowd. She’d been away, having spent most of the pandemic in her home of Zambia and unable to return to Australia, and when she spoke to her fans at the Forum it felt less like an artist bantering with fans and more like someone updating their friends and family on their life.
Forthright about how she’d been and what she’d learned, Sampa was also serious and righteous when she talked about industry barriers and representation (“When I envision an Afro Future, I envision seeing people who look like me on stage”) – and exhilarated about returning to Melbourne, a place she once called home, to finally perform.
Sampa’s whole-hearted engagement with the crowd made the show a warm, intimate one. But An Afro Future was also a production that was intentionally conceived and plotted. From the performers’ all-white costumes to the dancers’ electrifying choreography to the stage setup of an archway adorned with a luminous neon circle, An Afro Future evoked performances by the likes of Solange and FKA twigs – artists who turn concerts into narratives, even blurring the line between music and theatre.
All the set dressing proves irrelevant, though, if those on stage don’t bring the goods. And make no mistake, Sampa the Great is a hell of a performer. Charismatic and expressive, she breezed through song after song, going easily from a croon to a growl. Sampa played old fan favourites like ‘Black Girl Magik’ and ‘Final Form’ but also carefully lifted the veil on her new, still-unreleased material. Besides the recently released ‘Lane’ featuring Denzel Curry, she also aired ‘Never Forget’ (which features the Zambian rapper Chef 187 and Sampa’s sister Mwanjé) and ‘Let Me Be Great’. The latter song excitingly features the revered Angélique Kidjo, who Sampa revealed had gotten in touch after seeing Sampa’s NPR Tiny Desk concert.
Sampa the Great performed with an all-Zambian band – the same history-making group that backed her up at Coachella, and just a few days before at the Sydney Opera House for the first An Afro Future show – and also brought out Mwanjé (who’d opened the show and served as backing vocalist for Sampa) and opening act KYE to perform their collaborations with her. Sampa made clear that her vision of an Afro Future was one that cherished community. As she said in the introduction to ‘Never Forget’, “we may be the first Zambian band [to play these stages], but we’re not the last.”
Sampa The Great has a long, exciting road ahead of her – she’s expected to soon announce a new album – but An Afro Future also felt in some ways like a culmination of everything she’d been working towards so far. She performed the song ‘Can I Get A Key’, released as part of her breakout 2017 mixtape ‘Birds and the Bee9’, where she rapped about gatekeepers getting in the way of her boundless ambition. “Get out of your way and get it in your head,” she declared, “This my seat and the tables been set.”
With An Afro Future, Sampa the Great had created her own table. In the Forum, for a few hours, it was Sampa’s world – a joyous, liberated paradigm – and we were all living in it.
Sampa the Great played:
‘Leading Us Home’
‘Rhymes to the East’
‘Black Girl Magik’
‘Wild Ones’ (by Mwanjé)
‘Gold’ (by KYE)
‘Can I Get A Key’
‘Let Me Be Great’
‘Agüita’ (Gabriel Garzón-Montano cover)