Sampa The Great is poised to be her highest self. In just a few short years, the Zambian artist (born Sampa Tembo) has established herself as one of global rap’s most compelling and outspoken voices, reaching new levels of recognition and acclaim with the release of 2022’s defining album As Above, So Below.
The 29-year-old recorded her sophomore album over the course of two weeks while back home in Zambia during the pandemic. As Above represents Sampa's outside self, while So Below translates the Sampa within, uniting to reveal the highest version of herself— honest, without a mask or role to play. To bring the album to life, she worked with a network of friends, family and Zambian creatives: Mag44 serves as the project’s executive producer and co-producers are Sampa Tembo (her first producer credit), Sam Nyambe, Sammy Masta and Solomon Plate. It’s a homecoming back to her roots as well as a mark of her growing beyond her borders. She is expansive — she transcends genres and expectations — as both an artist and as a woman.
The fusion of urgency and poignancy that can be heard on Sampa’s most recent material can be traced all the way back to the start of her career; beginning with The Great Mixtape in 2015, developing beautifully across the Heroes Act 2 project in 2017 and culminating this period with the breakthrough Birds and the Bee9 mixtape in the same year. Netting Sampa the first of two Australian Music Prize wins (making her the only artist to achieve the feat), Birds and the Bee9 established her arrival within the music industry as a game changer for innovative hip hop being produced out of Australia.
Releasing her debut album The Return in 2019, Sampa The Great stepped further into the spotlight. The album proved to be a transformational moment for Sampa – in Australia, it earned her four ARIA Awards, her second Australian Music Prize, and the J Award for Double J Australian Artist of the Year, amongst other accolades. Internationally, Sampa was recognised as a BET Amplified Artist of the Month, while also growing in profile through performances on esteemed festivals and platforms including (and not limited to) AFROPUNK, The Roots Picnic, Later…With Jools Holland, NPR’s Tiny Desk…At Home and more.
At the end of The Return’s album cycle, Sampa returned to Africa, relocating back to Zambia, where she has been based since 2020. The move informed her next chapter exponentially, forming the basis of her As Above, So Below era: a renewed love for the music she grew up on and reignited vigour to create music that added to her growing legacy.
At the centre of Sampa The Great’s artistic identity, is an inherent knowledge of and confidence in herself. The vivacity experienced at a Sampa live show is a pure extension of the personality and strength of the woman behind the music; an artist unafraid to move between sonic genre and mood, Sampa’s infusion of her own brand of boldness with her art, has made her an in-demand name.
Recent years have seen Sampa collaborate with the likes of The Avalanches, Baker Boy, Emmanuel Jagari Chanda (WITCH), Denzel Curry and Angelique Kidjo; has appeared on the posthumous ‘Stumbling Down’ with the late Tony Allen in 2020 and lent her voice to younger sister Mwanjé’s forthcoming debut project.
The release of As Above, So Below in September 2022 came as a crowning achievement of what was a monumental year of performances for Sampa and her Zambian band, who she was able to thrive with on festival stages including Glastonbury, Coachella, Newport Jazz Festival; before returning to Australia to premiere As Above, So Below at iconic venues like the Sydney Opera House and The Forum, the latter of which saw Sampa host two special performances in the heart of Naarm (Melbourne), the city that had been so integral in the formative era of her career.
A global artistic visionary in the truest sense of the term, Sampa The Great has brought the essence of her culture together with a powerful and forward thinking blend of sonic influences; creating a contemporary sound that has illuminated one of music’s most unique and exciting creative journeys.
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