Sampa the Great
The track, Final Form, is available via:
5th June, 2019
THIS is an exciting weekend...
for reviewing because I get to look at, tomorrow, an old Jazz legend who has a new song out – Miles Davis is, it seems, still producing great songs long after his death! It is an interesting project and revival ad one I shall expand upon in more detail when I get there. Today, I am with Sampa the Great. I want to talk about a few things before I get to her latest single, Final Form. I wanted to talk about sound fusions and mixing genrews together to huge effect; Melbourne and the reasons why we need to look outside areas like London; potential singles of the year and what is defining this year’s music; more optimism and drive in music and the memorability inherent in that; a bit about upbringing and music coming into your life early – I will end by seeing where Sampa the Great is heading and what might be next for her. One listens to the opening bars of Final Form and you know it is going to be a great song. There is something about it that gets you moving and involved. I love the song because it gets you grooving and there is so much working away. What I love is how Sampa the Great has managed to fuse 1960s Soul and Pop with some modern Hip-Hop and global strands. I do think there are some artists mixing different sounds together and doing so in an effective way. I do think that music, too, can be a bit too simplistic and doesn’t rouse the spirits like it should. By that, I mean there needs to be a bit more boldness and experimentation regarding genres. Listen to Sampa the Great and she is s daring and original. Her songs seem to hop boundaries and borders and you are instantly intrigued by what she puts out. On Final Form, there is this incredible blitz that fuses with something more soulful and chocolate-rich. I do think that artists, for some reasons, are not putting together disparate and interesting sounds together.
PHOTO CREDIT: Ying Ang
Maybe it is difficult to realise something quite ambitious or it comes down to sampling. Listen to Sampa the Great and you imagine you are hearing this song with loads of samples running through. I recognise that there are artists who take big steps and can integrate genres but what Sampa the Great is doing is amazing. I love her work and do thing that others should take a lead from her. I think it is important artists combine different genres and decades but it means listeners will be curious and go back to the original source, as it were. From Final Form, I was compelled to have a listen to Soul records and try and see where Sampa the Great was coming from. I think her eclectic nature and fusions result in an itinerant musical upbringing and living in an area of the world where there was this freshness, excitement and colour coming from music. I will look at optimism in music soon but, before then, listen to all the beats and rhythms that are in Final Form and one can only imagine the kind of music Sampa the Great grew up around. You listen to the song and are transported to a new world; a place that is full of life and adventure. Music’s physical power is amazing and Sampa the Great is one of those artists who can move people and get reaction. I do feel that certain areas of music, especially the mainstream, are becoming a bit stale and there is not quite the life and ambition you’d hope for. Away from the Pop core and the radio-friendly artists, you get a lot more fire and chemistry. Listen back to Sampa the Great’s catalogue and she has always had this sense of wonder and dare. A lot of artists might mix together genres and sounds and it would come off reckless and lazy. Sampa the Great has a great knowledge and passion and, in every song, she is in control and wonderful. From an artist so young, it is amazing to hear such ambition and quality.
That might sound a little bit patronising but I am always blown away by artists who sound complete and on top of their game so early on. In any case, Sampa the Great is based in Melbourne and, when it comes to musical areas of the world, do we look at Australia? I think that, still, London and New York are favoured when it comes to the best music around. Kylie Minogue, The Avalanches and Courtney Barnett are all from Melbourne and, dig deeper, and there is this wave of new talent emerging. It is understandable why there would be so many great musicians working in Melbourne. The city mixes art and history together but it has a contemporary vibe. That effortless assimilation of the classical and new inspires the mind and the mixture of people provides different accents, languages and movements. Great music venues such as The Tote are around and, if you walk around, there are brilliant spots to watch gigs and all sorts of music coming through. Maybe Melbourne is not quite on the same level as London when it comes to options and big venues but it is a city that has a huge quality of life and it is keeping native artists there. I do feel that too many concentrate on the U.S. and U.K. and forget that there is music coming from all areas of Australia. From Darwin and Hobart through to Sydney and Perth, there is so much to see and hear! Melbourne is a wonderful area of Australia and a naturally inspiring place in which to write and create. Sampa the Great was not born in Melbourne but she has adopted it as her new home. I do feel people get an impression that there is not the same sort of eclectic spirit in Australia; that the music is more narrow and predictable. You only need do a bit of research to understand that Melbourne is this happening and rich city that is among the most exciting in the world.
PHOTO CREDIT: Koury Angelo
I am desperate to get to Melbourne because it is a place that calls to you; it gets into the mind and you cannot forget it. In musical terms, there are brilliant acts emerging but I feel like people need to be a bit bolder regarding their music tastes. We do get too fixed on what is coming from the U.S. and U.K. and this can limit our horizons. Aside from artists like Courtney Barnett and Kylie Minogue, we are not spending enough time with Australian artists. It is hard for musicians in Australia to get credit and recognition in the U.S. and U.K. because, obviously, travelling here to perform is not always possible. They have to rely on radio play and, a lot of times, there are few eyes trained their way. It is a shame that cities such as Melbourne do not get the credit and attention they deserve because, as I said, there is a rich seam running through the place. The artists here are strong and passionate and I do feel like they warrant more time. Sampa the Great definitely helps regarding putting new Melbourne music on the map. I think she brings together her childhood and musical upbringing with what is happening in Melbourne right now. Instead of following the mainstream pack or copying everyone else, she is trusting her gut and pushing boundaries. It is thrilling to see and I’d be willing to bet, if you spend some good time in Melbourne, you’ll hear other artists like Sampa the Great working away. Let’s move on in a bit because I am eager to talk about this year in music and what is going on. If you do get a chance to check out some Melbourne-based music, make sure you do – it is definitely rewarding and you might discover some new favourites. It seems that, with every week that passes, a potential ‘single of the year’ is born and blows me away.
PHOTO CREDIT: Ying Ang
This year has been especially strong for music and I am damned to figure out why. I guess you can never predict what is going to happen or who might come through but, in sheer quality terms, 2019 has been a blockbuster. You only need look back at all the singles released so far and you are not short of quality and brilliance. I think Final Form is making a bid for the best single of the year so far and, to be fair, it might be hard to shift! I feel that women are leading the pack this year and showing why the industry needs to pay more attention to them. What amazes me is how varied female-led music is and how we often assume women will be quite limited. The music industry has never been too receptive regarding women and giving them a proper place but 2019 is a year where the finest female artists are stepping up and showing why they warrant proper respect. There are other reasons why 2019 has been a big one for music. I do feel like the new artists around are naturally building on what came before and trying to be different. If you repeat what has come before then it creates a stale scene but, in terms of the best and brightest, they are taking more risks and looking away from the tried and tested. Conventional mainstream music has its place but I am always attracted to artists that have a rare scent and special way of working; that ability to transcend the ordinary and go deeper. In terms of themes, artists are addressing what is happening in the world and the chaos around us. It is a tough time for us all and, more and more, musicians are bringing that stark reality into the fold. The striking and eye-opening nature of their work is resonating and people are discovering something potent and stirring. Also, there is a lot of the opposite: artists who want to provide some catharsis and distract us from the turmoil swirling around.
This blend and clash means that we have very evocative and real music that is getting into the head but we have the relief of release. I am not saying that disconnection and stress seems to breed quality but there is something in it. As the country and world is splitting and becoming less united, there is this force in the music industry that is bringing us together. Artists are speaking louder than politicians ever could and they are ensuring that the power of their work makes us feel better, more clearly or, at the very least, just makes us think. I do wonder where the rest of 2019 will take us and what we have to come. In terms of the genres that are ruling, it is hard to pin it down. Listen to Sampa the Great against the music of Fontaines D.C., Little Simz and others and there is difference. It depends what you like and go after but I just think there is an amazing vibe and electricity running through music. I will move on again but I have been bowled over by all the brilliant sounds that 2019 has produced. I do feel like Final Form can mix it up with the very best and will be challenging for the best single of the year. This rate of progression – and explosion of quality – leads me to believe that next year might be stronger still. I am not putting down last year and what has come before but 2019 is particularly awe-inspiring and memorable. It is rewarding to hear so much terrific music around of all shapes and genres. I will return to Sampa the Great and her fusions but, when I think of the best tracks of the year so far, I am drawn to the textures and sonic weaves as opposed the lyrics and anything else. I wanted to nod to Sampa the Great and where she started life but, on the theme of quality music and what defines it for me, a sense of optimism and fun must come into the fore.
Last week, I was reviewing The Divine Comedy and, whereas the Office Politics album looks at the workaday world and the annoyances we all have to encounter, there was so much brilliance and fun to be discovered. It is no surprise where you realise how great a songwriter Neil Hannon is but, in every track, there was something to turn the head and heart. Sampa the Great, right from the opening notes on Final Form, gets the head spinning and the body moving. One of my biggest complaints regarding music is how fun seems to be on the back-burner. Maybe things are changing this year but, in years past, there has been too much seriousness and not enough excitement. I do think we need to address what is happening in the world but there is a definite need for something escapist and thrilling. We all need to feel better and adopt a more positive outlook and I think music has that power. Sampa the Great, again, does focus on some bigger themes but the composition and vocal delivery has so much energy and spirit that you cannot help be intoxicated and drawn into it. I love that and I do feel more in the industry need to follow her. As an example of what can happen when you fuse sounds and go for something positive, the effects are spellbinding. Final Form, for that reason, is a song that stays in the mind for ages and, as I suggested, is one of the best singles of the year so far. Again, maybe it is Sampa the Great’s early years and roots that naturally grew into this positive outlook. If you are brought up around music that has a definite verve then that is going to inspire you and impact what you write yourself. If you do need to be lifted and discover your smile, may I suggest you investigate Sampa the Great and all she has to offer? It is a perfect tonic and blast of sunshine that will get you motivated and refreshed.
I do need to crack on with reviewing itself and the song in question but, before I do, it is worth mentioning that Sampa the Great was born in Zambia. She was raised in Botswana and she discovered Hip-Hop at an early age. Like she does on her recent cut, her earliest work was defined by heavier themes given a lighter touch. She moved to Australia where she has found acclaim and love but, listen back to her music and how she approaches things, and one can definitely hear her African roots running right through. I think it is that love of Hip-Hop and its naturally powerful, eclectic and fantastic nature that has influenced her the most. In this interview with HUCK, Sampa the Great was asked about Hip-Hop and when it came into her life; living in different areas and whether, truly, she feels like she has deserved the applause she has garnered:
“Do you remember your first introduction to hip hop?
I went upstairs to my cousin’s bedroom and he was playing ‘Changes’ by Tupac. Everything stopped. It sounded like poetry and music together. Then ‘Until The End Of Time’ played and I was like, ‘Woah… what is this?’
Why do you think it resonated so much?
It was different but familiar as well. I guess I saw the similarities with music that I listened to, where it sounded like people were speaking on top of a song, rather than singing. That is what rap is to me: poetry spoken over beats. I was hooked.
You’ve travelled and lived in a number of different places. How has hip hop played a role in those moves and transitions?
I think the one thing I found within these culture shocks was that laughter and music were universal languages. Everybody knows how to speak them. Hip hop crosses all these borders and boundaries – it’s this language already.
I remember reading a past interview in which you spoke of “imposter syndrome”. How did you overcome that?
At the beginning there were times when I struggled with imposter syndrome. I don’t get those feelings anymore. You overcome that fear by taking stock of the work you’ve put in. Just because you didn’t do it professionally, or it wasn’t in the public view, doesn’t mean the skills were’t being refined. Knowing you actually did the work is enough”.
IMAGE CREDIT: Beats 1
The head is mixed and shaken right off the bat with Final Form. There is, what sounds like samples working away (but they might be original cuts) and there is this phat beat that gives the song plenty of swagger and boost. The horns work away and there is this combination of Hip-Hop, Soul and Jazz that gives the introduction such weight and authority. You are hypnotised and moved by the incredible flair and panache of the introduction; the way it makes you feel and the body move. It is an incredible opening that brings to mind the classic Hip-Hop records. When Sampa the Great comes to the microphone, the lyrics definitely make you wonder. “The lace lady/Travel with grace baby/I can’t afford to cover the costs of course maybe/Settle that one in court ‘cos/Judging by the basics/Y’all already comfortable stuck up in the matrix”. One gets that mix of oblique and direct with Sampa the Great so you might know what she is trying to say but there is always that doubt. Her worldplay is great and I like the fact there is a bit of mystery. Rather than convey something personal and overly-clear, there is this room for interpretation and configuration. One is amazed by the flow of the song and the way Sampa the Great seamlessly blends in and guides the song forward. Part of your mind is hooked on the foreground and what Sampa the Great is laying down whereas another part of the brain is focused on the electricity and joy from the back. The video is shot in Zambia and there is colourful cast of dancers who all look splendid. Production by SILENT JAY and mixing by Jonwayne, it is amazing song that manages to unite the very modern and traditional with Sampa the Great’s heritage. The sheer confidence of her voice and the way she can make every line pop and crackle…that is the sign of a truly great artist! There does seem to be this insecurity and lack of confidence from the artist; maybe she feels like she has tried to find her place in the world but, in terms of sheer conviction, she is laying down a new classic.
PHOTO CREDIT: Ying Ang
That slight feeling of being lost is replaced by a sense of purpose and ambition that is hard to ignore. Never boastful or showing ego, you are behind Sampa the Great as she strides forward and lays it all out there. One does not need to be a huge fan of Hip-Hop or know where Sampa the Great is coming from to appreciate the song. There is vocal scratching and samples (I am not sure whether the voice you hear in the background are from old records or created in the studio) that gives Final Form that vintage edge; spliced with the very raw and modern sound coming from the vocal and beats, it is a dizzying revelation that gets every sense fired and flamed. The beat is superb; the backing vocal (a bit Prince-like) adds shiver and rush whilst the sounds deployed makes Final Form a real cracker. At the front is Sampa the Great and, if you watch the video, you can see her own and rule. Sampa the Great talks about black power and the hope that Africa will replace America in terms of ethics, passion and kindness; black artists and voices getting more of say, perhaps. She also nods to Zion and Bob Marley and, again, one hears the combination of classic roots and leaders and what is happening in the world now. Whether you are thrilled by the chorus or generally stunned by the song as a whole, I would be very shocked if Final Form was not named the best track of 2019. It hits you instantly and will stay with you for a very long time! Blending classic Hip-Hop and epic beats with a patented blend from Sampa the Great, this is a titanic song that cannot be ignored. Instantly, it makes me curious whether there is more material coming and whether it will sound anything like Final Form. It is obvious Sampa the Great is in inspired form and there is no stopping her – who would want to, frankly! An amazing song that will put you in a better frame of mind and bring to your thoughts this incredible artist, Final Form is a masterpiece.
PHOTO CREDIT: Maya Adjeley
It seems that Sampa the Great is always moving and it is her sense of transit that makes her songs so feel alive and exciting. Even though she is in Melbourne right now, what is to say she will remain there? Maybe she will live in New York and bring her unique blends to the scene there. Maybe she’ll come to London for a bit or she might favour a stay in Berlin. I do like the fact Sampa the Great has this energy that makes her music so wonderful and memorable. Final Form is her latest gem and one hopes that there is more music coming very soon. Keep abreast of all her happenings via social media and I am sure there will be more music coming along. I do really love the way Sampa the Great works and how far she has come. In a music world where it can be hard to stand aside and find footing, here is an original that has very few equals. It might be too early to call the single of the year so far but I do think Final Form is definitely in with a shout! What comes next is down to her. I know there will be people around the world who want to see her perform and get to witness the music up-close. This special artist is definitely hitting a peak right now and it is thrilling hearing these incredibly vibrant and vivacious songs. I am sure Final Form will be in my head for many more weeks and, to be fair, I do not want it shifted anytime soon! Let me wrap things up now but, after you have done reading and listening, make sure you do keep informed regarding what Sampa the Great is doing and where she steps next. Many people are new to her work so it is important to look back and get involved. There are very few as great and powerful as Sampa the Great and I do hope that many, as I keep saying, realise that the strongest music right now is being made by women – let’s hope this translates to greater recognition and equality. On a sunny Saturday, Final Form sounds like the perfect accompaniment as you head into the day. I keep saying how it is early to predict the singles that will grab the critical headliners but, when it comes to pure brilliance that rides high, Final Form, right now, is very much…
PHOTO CREDIT: @Theol_Home
THE song to beat.
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PHOTO CREDIT: Ying Ang
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