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Sampa the Great brings her Zam-rock party to Perth Festival

Sampa the Great | Perth Festival | 1st March 2024 | ★ ★ ★ ★ 

The final days of the 2024 Perth Festival brought the highlight of a concert featuring Australian-Zambian rapper Sampa the Great, and it showed how many new fans the artist’s most recent album has brough her.

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Sampa was raised in Zambia and Botswana, but later moved to San Francisco to study and then relocated to Australia. It was in Australia that her career began to take off, signed to the influential Ninja Tunes label and sub-label Big Dada, she brought out mixtapes and in 2019 her debut album The Return. 

The artist really took it up a notch though with her second album As Above, So Below which came out at the end of 2022. Having moved back to Zambia, Sampa embraced the local musical genre of Zam-rock and worked with local musician on a sound that melded hip-hop, jazz and African rock sounds.

The show began with a support set from Kaait, the non-binary neo-soul singer who hails from Melbourne. Delivering an impressive set of jazz funk and blues to the large crowd who gathered in Supreme Court Gardens. I’m sure they picked up a lot of new fans after this performance which showcased some of their latest work.

The crowd gave a rapturous welcome to Sampa the Great as she took to the stage backed by a four-piece band and two backing singers, including her younger sister Mwanje Tembo.

Wearing a white corset and harem pants, Sampa the Great sported her long braided hair that cascaded down behind her and quickly broke into some rock grooves matched with her fast flow of rapping.

The singer spoke of the influence of Zambian Rock, or Zam-rock, on her latest music and noted that legendary Zambian Rock band W.I.T.C.H were also playing at the Perth Festival. At one point she brought out her uncle Jagari Chanda, who had been a founding member of the band for a duet.

The combination of sounds, and the powerful vocals of her backing singers, gave a solid musical bed for Sampa the Great’s growling rap sounds. It’s the combination of these elements that has made her music be appreciated by a much wider audience.

There was some anticipation in the crowd over whether global music star Angelique Kidjo might make a surprise appearance at the show, she features on the track Let Me Be Great which closes Sampa the Great’s recent album. Kidjo had played the Perth Concert Hall, just a few hundred metres away just the previous evening.

It wasn’t to be, Sampa dedicated the song to the “mother of African music” but said she wasn’t in attendance, the backing singers did I fine job of covering Kidjo’s part and the inspirational track was one of the show’s highlights.

Graeme Watson 


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