Although she’d been writing for a while, Sampa the Great has recently released her first recording, and will make her WOMADelaide debut this weekend.
With an infectious laugh and boundless energy, Sampa was an absolute delight to chat with about her life, music and her goals.
We drank tea together, over the phone, while she sat in her house in Campsie, NSW and I in my office in Adelaide, but because of Sampa’s genuine warmth and affable nature, it felt like we were in the same room.
Zambia born, and currently living in Sydney, Sampa the Great came over to Australia to study, and a world of music opened up to her after meeting producer Dave Rodriguez.
“I’ve lived here for two years. I came to finish my degree. I was just going to do an audio production degree. I wanted to stay doing sound and my dad wanted me to get a degree, so I said, ‘Ok. Let’s meet halfway.’ So I did my degree and on the side I was going to gigs, seeing what people were doing around town, and trying to work on music. Then I met Dave, and things started happening; and here we are!” she says.
“I did finish the degree but dad was still like, ‘Did you get your degree?’ and I’m like, ‘Yeah, I did, dad! Gosh!’ He knows I’m doing what I love, but then he’s like, ‘Yeah, but what about your Masters?’”
We laugh so hard she spills her tea and we talk for a while about how disappointing that is, before moving on to her family history and why she started writing, which is another hilarious story.
“Before here, I was living in Botswana. My family, we’re all raised there. We’re all from Zambia but we moved to Botswana when I was about two years old. My immediate family is in Botswana, but all my relatives and cousins are in Zambia.
“The first time I ever wrote; I was trying to write a song. My parents left me at primary school because they forgot about me; they forgot to pick me up from school! I said, ‘They hate me! I’m the middle child!’ and I took out one of my exercise books; I was sitting in the middle of the playground, and I was the only one there and I just started writing,” Sampa laughs.
“It turned into a song and I loved the way I could talk and make it rhyme, and put my feelings down; then my poetry started growing. Then I saw a boy group do a hip hop thing on stage and I thought, Woah, that’s just like poetry, but that’s sick! I want to do that! And they said, ‘No, you can’t do that, you’re a girl’. I was so mad! Like, that’s messed up!”
Despite the discouragement from the boy group, Sampa didn’t give up; she started widening her collection of music.
“I started listening to hip hop and it became apparent that poetry could really be put to music. The first song I heard of 2Pac’s was ‘Changes’ and the lyrics were poetry to me. There was so much emotion in it. I realised putting poetry to music was a beautiful way of expressing yourself, especially for me, who thought the whole world was against her because I was the middle child,” she laughs.
“It was a good way for me to write down my feelings, thoughts and expressions. It really helped me. It really saved my life.”
She says ‘music is a soul language’, which is a concept she wholeheartedly believes in, but finds it hard to define.
“It’s too vast, but from what I’ve experienced from listening to other people’s music, I come to the conclusion I’m listening to that person’s soul music. In the human experience, we’re all going through the same thing. We’re all fighting the same battles. And love of self, love of everyone around you; we’re all going through the same thing, so don’t feel alone in this struggle. It’s all soul language,” Sampa says.
Last year, Sampa released her soul language in the form of The Great Mixtape, which she has been touring around Australia, and will share with us live at WOMADelaide.
“The things that have been happening because of this mixtape, it’s crazy! It’s amazing. Thank God for Dave! We went to Brisbane, Melbourne, Sydney. We’re doing stuff in Adelaide and then keep going and spreading it around. It’s been doing well on the internet. People are sharing it and it’s so cool,” she says.
“And I’m bringing it to WOMAD. Everyone is telling me I’m going to be amazed and I’m going to be cheering! I’m excited about listening to people I haven’t heard. I’m not even looking at the line-up. I’m trying to get the live experience. I want to listen to people, see how people connect to the music. I think it’s going to be awesome.”
Sampa will be bringing a full band with her when she plays, and is promising a pretty great show.
“We’re going to have a full band there and a lot of live energy. It’s going to be awesome. We’re going to have xylophone, marimba, we’re going to have everybody,” she laughs.
After her Adelaide show, Sampa is planning a new project and a little world domination, and with a plan like hers, let’s hope she makes it.
“After WOMADelaide, there’s one more event left and then we’ll relax for a while. I’m thinking of going home for a while. We’re working on something at the moment, but I’m not calling it an album, we’ll call it a ‘project’! it’s exciting,” she says.
“I want to take my music everywhere. I want it to be universal, because I think the message is universal. As I try to do a global take over with inspiration, I hope I’m inspired as well by the people I meet. World domination with love! Instead of revolution: re-love-ution!”
WOMADelaide runs from Friday 11-Monday 14 March, with tickets through the website.
By Libby Parker