Album of the Week: Sampa the Great ‘The Return’

 Sampa the Great (real name, Sampa Tembo) is back with her polished poetics and rich production, blending her South African heritage and love for classic hip hop in ‘The Return’.

The Zambian-born Australian based hip hop artist released single, ‘Final Form’ back in June of this year, which featured a combination of fiercely delivered lyrics and a classical hip hop inspired production.

‘The Return’ is Sampa’s latest album, its wholesome sound is layered with meaning and not just works to introduce her story, but is actually part of it.

“Zambia is part of my identity and I wanted to show that story,” she told Apple Music.

In short, the album is really an ode of reassurance to who you are, where you’re from and how to navigate that.

What better way to enjoy the weekend than listen to the entirety of this rather contemplative album, from which I have freshly hand-picked some of my personal favourites.

The first sound I encountered was ‘Mwana’ which features Mwanje Tembo, Theresa Mutale Tembo and the Sunburnt Choir Soul. A song penned about Sampa’s return home, both physically and spiritually. This is a deeply personal song, as you pick up on the intricacies of a flutter of musical influences, a tropical percussion ticks away as Sampa raps, “searching for what’s inside me.” ‘Mwana’ is particularly special as this is the first song she has ever done in Bemba, the Bantu language spoken by her family. Featuring vocals from two very important people in her life, her mum and sister, supported by the fluid African gospel harmonies from the Sunburnt Soul Choir.

‘Freedom’ opens up about the compromises artists encounter and the struggle in defining yourself as an arising artist. Sampa isn’t afraid to dabble in the artistic struggle today many face and how the need to earn a living often comes with compromising the art, as she emphatically expresses how, “it’s so important to know who I am and to not compromise that.”

‘Dare to Fly’ features Ecca Vandal, with its percussive nature decked out amongst the rawness of a sleek electric guitar peppered throughout makes the track stand out.

‘Any Day’ glistens with its pertinent percussive beat and keys, as Sampa treads a a path often hidden by the music industry, the exploitation of black artists. Asserting the challenges faced when expressing black heritage through art in western culture, as she raps, “token art and token legacy, all rigged up in the industry, no vision, no visionaries, white out in all my ancestry.”

An up-tempo and playful tune, ‘OMG’ takes Sampa back to her home, cultural heritage and the Kwaito music she was immersed amongst growing up. For Sampa, Kwaito music was what she always danced to at home but one never fully expressed in her music. From the minute she introduced Kwaito to her producer, Kwes Darko, things went off from there.

“I don’t take [growing up in Australia] for granted, but I also know that my inspiration, all my music and artistry comes from home.

“Being able to bridge those two – who I am where I’m based – has made me more assured of who I am,” she told Apple Music.

‘Final Form’ has a whole lot of sass, both varied and layered in complexity and influence. It’s cinematic soundscape, makes you feel as if you are being brought into a movie of Sampa’s life. But, Sampa clearly articulates this is only one side of her life story.

“In the video, I show you my parents, the school I went to.

“Whatever you create out of that, that’s your business, but this is my story. I needed to create that musically and visually,” she said.

Owning a more classical and theatrical tone, ‘Heaven’ is soulfully mesmerising with the high-pitch swaying violins, harmonic vocals and acoustics all working to hint towards a more lo-fi flavoured sound. Produced by SilentJay, with accompanying lush vocals from Sampa’s sister, Mwanje. Here, Sampa lyrically articulates how a near-death experience can almost force you re-evaluate your thought patterns and the decisions you make in life.

Almost like a meditation, ‘The Return’ echoes a sound oozing with soul and a calming confidence. The likes of Thando, Jace XL, Alien & Whosane worked alongside Sampa to create this special, vulnerable song intimately crafted through individual experiences.

“We really broke down, but we let the world hear how vulnerable and scared we are. That’s what I love about it,” Sampa said.

‘The Return‘ really delves into the crux of who you think you are and where you think your home is, even if it’s not really your home, and trying to recreate that within yourself. As Sampa almost reassuringly repeats over and over, “I’m coming back home” which, with her careful vocal intonation, almost sounds like ‘I’m coming back whole’.

Go give your mind, body and soul a treat, go listen to Sampa the Great’s,‘The Return’ HERE.

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