Poet and songwriter, Sambo Tembo, also known as Sampa The Great, believes in the raw power of words and music to effect positive change and enable greater understanding of the world around us.
As the middle child born in Zambia and raised in Botswana, she remembers being immersed in traditional music at home and spending hours writing in her journal from a young age. “I used to write little poems, not knowing that they could be songs, all the time. The first one I sang out loud to my family was inspired when they had forgotten to pick me up from primary school one day,” she laughs. “I don’t think they believed I had written it, I had to convince them.”
From that day on, Sampa’s love for the written word grew even stronger. She began competing in poetry slams at school and says it was around this time she discovered a potent attraction to hip-hop. “I love artists like Lauryn Hill, Mos Def and Tupac – especially back then it was all about Tupac.”
Determined to explore a life in music, Sampa arrived in Sydney at 22-years-old leaving her family and friends behind. The trials of separating from everything she had ever known motivated early song lyrics and fortified her desire to make a mark.
In 2015, an eloquent blend of politically-aware R’n’B, hip-hop and spoken word known as The Great Mixtape (mixed by Godriguez) won her recognition on a national scale pushing her career into an upward trajectory.
Sampa began to tour and followed up her debut album with HERoes and HERoes Act 2 in 2016 during which time she caught the eye of hip-hop duo REMI. The three friends soon formed an alliance and collaborated on ‘For Good’ off REMI’s 2016 album Divas & Demons. “To be honest, I’ve known Sampa was special from the day I met her,” says Remi Kolewole. “Her success is not even a surprise to me at this point. It’s beautiful to watch the person she is – she has changed the way I think about creating music.”
More recently, Sampa, Kolewole and Sensible J joined forces again for a national tour and for her new single ‘Rhymes From the East’ from her upcoming LP Birds And The BEE9. “I recorded that track in one take,” she says. “One thing I’ve learnt is to trust my instincts – when it’s right, it’s right, and I knew what I wanted to say as soon as I heard that beat.”
Birds And The BEE9 (due for release on Friday November 10) is Sampa’s first release on British independent label Big Dada. Known by it’s reputation for attracting the best talent the label, founded by English music journalist and novelist Will Ashon, is home to some of hip-hop’s finest – Roots Manuva, Wiley and Young Fathers. By signing to this world-class label Sampa knows she will make an impact. “I think of music as therapy and we all need a little therapy sometimes.”
Although she is currently in the UK after a whirlwind run of shows supporting US rapper/ actor Joey Bada$$(who she cites as an inspiration) Sampa The Great will be back on home soil to celebrate the release of Birds And The BEE9 and to take part in Melbourne Music Week. “It means so much to me to be invited back to play at MMW and the venue, St. Paul’s Cathedral, is so beautiful – I can’t wait to hear the acoustics.”
She will be supported by Melbourne R‘n’B duo Fortunes and neo-soul group The Harpoons, as well as Spike F**k, Marcus Whale, Anuraag (DJ Set) and Wahe (DJ Set). Don’t miss the chance to experience Sampa’s homecoming in the historic venue. “The way that people connect with her music and really feel what she’s saying – that’s the sign of an incredible artist, and I think we all need someone like her in our lives,” Kolewole says.
Sampa The Great has come from the other side of the world, broken down borders, forged a path and can now let the music speak for itself.
Melbourne Music Week runs from November 17 – 25.
Written by Natalie Rogers
For the full program visit https://mmw.melbourne.vic.gov.au/