Sampa the Great is a Zambian-born singer, songwriter and rapper who is poised to take a huge leap. The Melbourne-based artist has been on an upward trajectory since her 2017 mixtape ‘Birds and the BEE9’ was released on Ninja Tune subsidiary label Big Dada. A critically and commercially successful project, she landed the crown of Australia’s leading black female artist with its release. Influences of Lauryn Hill and Mos Def are weaved in throughout with both its soulful, jazzy theme backed up by introspective lyrical content. Before her debut performance at Glastonbury, NME caught up with Sampa the Great.
How would you describe the thematic content of ‘Birds and the Bee9’ for you to make?
Navigating Australia. That’s where my music came out. That’s where I was professionally known as Sampa The Great. And to be in the country where my music is growing and sacrificing being home to continue my music career and be in a country where you know you’re not wanted. And so, having to deal with that and as a musician, all these incredible things happening to you and you kind of are forced to a play where I had to express that through music so BB9 [Birds and the Bee9] was very pivotal. It was [also] a sad time of my life where I had to heal through a lot of things, a lot of business break-ups as well and it was a good part to heal from and now I’m in a better place.
How have you found navigating being a Black person in Australia?
Yeah, it’s been very hard especially as a migrant in Australia. There are Black people in Australia – First Nations – who are not acknowledged. As a migrant, you come into the situation but actually you’ve been treating people very badly before me so it’s first navigating between the Black communities and how things are and how people are treated and making sure that people acknowledge being treated their way than navigating the broader community. Also not having to bear the burden of teaching all the time which has been a thing. Even harder as an artist because your work is a message. It’s ambassadorial. You’re the person who is representing all these different group of Black people. And Black is diverse. It’s not just one thing.
How do you look at your music in terms of this? Is it an outlet or a political protest?
I mean, music has always been an outlet regardless of where I am and if its racist or not. That will continuously be a thing and I make a case to not just make music about one thing whether it is making music about love or being in that area or making music about things that are political and staying in that.
Did you ever think you’d perform at a festival like Glastonbury?
How are you feeling about it?
I don’t think it’s going to hit after everything is done which is kind of good because I get to just perform as me and not have to put any pressure around it being Glastonbury. But also so excited.
How did your collaboration with Steamdown [the London jazz collective] happen?
We met through a friend. Our sessions were amazing and we decided to do a song together which was amazing and then they were like “We’re doing Glastonbury” and I said “same”.
What’re your thoughts on the London scene vs the Melbourne scene?
I’m still a baby when it comes to London scene. Melbourne is booming. You have people who experience different things. You have up and coming Black voices which we’ve never heard which is an exciting time for Melbourne. It’s different. I can’t give anything accurate [about London] because I haven’t lived here. Working with Steamdown has amazing but I can’t take that one experience and be like “London is amazing.”
Any plans to move to London?
Yeah, you know. When the album comes out this year, I’d look to come back. Hopefully more shows around the album time.
Who’s on the album?
Wait for the announcement! With this one, I really wanted to make the music with people who actually know me. Steam Down is on the album and so is Blue Lab Beats who are from here.
Any future collaborations? Any dream collaborations?
Dream collaboration will always be Lauryn Hill. At the end of her show [in Glastonbury] is my show, so I’m very upset. This is a set clash you really don’t want to have.
Where would you like to see yourself and your music in 5-10 years?
Definitely owning an avenue that is able to push other artists and their music. Always wanted to own my own label and put out music so hopefully in the future, that is something that is able to happen. And definitely in the foreseeable future, I get to do it.