Poet and hip-hop artist Sampa Tembo is Zambian-born, Botswana-raised and, as of the past couple of years, Sydney-based. Back in Zambia, hers was a musical household, with traditional African beats the norm and yet room for modern influences such as Tupac, Lauryn Hill, Mos Def to creep steadily in. Her stage name – Sampa The Great – big and audacious as it is, was actually inspired by the following question: “What is something you thought you never would be?” Earlier this month, Sampa dropped her three-track EP titled HERoes Act 2, featuring Grammy-winning artist Estelle (American Boy) and producer Rahki (Kendrick Lamar, Travis Scott, Mac Miller). You can have a listen a little further down. For now, enjoy our snappy catch-up with the young songstress about how she got her start, and how she found (and maintains) her unique sound.
How did you come to discover your own greatness?
“Probably the first time I wrote a song. I was at school waiting for my dad to pick me up and he was late. Everyone had gone and I just sitting in the parking lot and decided to write a song. I took my notepad out and everything, and later showed my older sister and cousin. They did not believe I wrote the song. I thought to myself ‘this must be great’, because they didn’t believe I did it.”
— Sampa The Great (@Sampa_The_Great) May 10, 2017
How have your relatives in Botswana reacted to your burgeoning career?
“My relatives are in Zambia and my parents and siblings are in Botswana. All are delighted, some shocked at the progression of my career. Still everyone is supportive and giving their suggestions on what the next song should sound like – LOL.”
You’re someone who is clearly an achiever. What drives you forward in your creative life?
“Pursuing passion and my love for music, and probably a sense of connection to everyone through what has come to be a soul language.”
What’s your advice for other musicians who are struggling to find their own unique sound?
“From my experience, when I felt uninspired or lost in translation, I would go back to why I started music in the first place. The first songs I wrote, and who I am, and translate that to music. That is how I keep my sound.”
Have you completed your audio engineering course at SAE? What was the best part of studying here in Sydney?
“Yes, I have graduated. [The best part was] meeting amazing people who have the same passion.”
What are your interests outside of music?
“Athletics, before music I used to sprint. I’m still interested a lot in sprinting.”
What’s the best industry advice you’ve received and who gave it?
“Probably given to me by my dad. It’s just to be able to surround yourself with a passionate team that understands your vision and goal. Then work together on achieving those goals.”
What’s your definition of a hero?
“Being able to be courageous without the absence of fear.”
Before you even began recording HERoes Act 2, what was your intention for this album? What message did you have to impart?
“HERoes Act 2 was a snapshot of a time of uncertainty and doubt, and the realisation that those aspects are very normal. My message still remains in looking for the hero within yourself first, but added would be to trust your inner voice and intuition. Tough times don’t last, but tough people do.”
Sampa The Great’s new EP HERoes Act 2 is out now via Red Bull Sound Select. All three tracks were recorded in Red Bull’s Paris studios and feature Grammy award winning artist, Estelle and producer Rahki (Kendrick Lamar, Travis Scott). Sampa The Great tours nationally with REMI throughout June and July.