Photo by Ken Leanfore

Sampa the Great is a Modern Day Poet

When rapper and singer-songwriter Sampa the Great released her first mixtape in 2015, it was obvious there were big things to come.

The Zambian born, Botswana raised musician’s hard-hitting lyrics, soulful beats, and wisdom well beyond her years found its way once again on 2017 release Birds and the BEE9, solidifying herself as a true force in Australian hip-hop. With support slots for Joey Bada$$ and Kendrick Lamar ticked off and an international touring schedule underway, we stole some time from Sampa to chat poetry icons, the songs of her youth and more, below.

I read that your dad used to DJ a bit. What kind of tunes would he be spinning when you were growing up?

My dad used to DJ in his teenage years. According to Mum, he loved Lionel Richie and Marvin Gaye, which explains a lot. The thing is though, when we were growing up he was all about traditional music and gospel.

Aside from family and friends, what do you miss most about home?

I miss the language a lot. And the culture, just general day to day normal things. I also miss Zambian food! Of course, I also miss the music from both Zambia and Botswana.

What do you think is unique about getting coming up and making music in the Australian music scene?

It has been exciting to be in the midst of a growing industry. I also love seeing all the amazing young talent burst through, as well as young black talent expanding what the industry looks like and what it can be.

Photo by Kyra Sophie

You’ve worked with so many incredible artists, what’s one of the most important things you’ve learned from a favourite collab?

Working collaboratively with different people is always so different, from person to person. There are lots of areas you have to be willing to explore and grow in and sometimes you’re not necessarily an expert in them. I find that the best thing about collaborations is the excitement of learning new things that you didn’t even know existed until you’ve started working with someone new.

You’re known for your incredible lyricism—what are some of your favourite lyrics from either a poetry or hip-hop icon?

I love Audre Lorde’s work and this quote is one of my favourites:

‘The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.

When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.

It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognise, accept, and celebrate those differences.’

I also really love Toni Morrison, who said, “You wanna fly, you got to give up the shit that weighs you down.”

If you could give one piece of advice to a young girl growing up and wanting to be a rapper/hip-hop artist one day, what would it be?

Your voice is valid. Disregard people and doubts about your potential success in this industry. Cultivate the artist you want to be regardless of the ever-changing industry.

What do you count as one of your favourite music festival memories?

My first Splendour was pretty epic. I hadn’t performed in a while and the band and I were pretty amped to perform. A lot of hair flips, a lot of energy. It was probably one of the first shows I had with a big crowd as well!

What does the world need more of in 2018?

Empathy is always a huge one. There’s always big things happening in this big world. I also think we need to communicate better with each other.

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