Performing for Zoo Twilights, Sampa The Great confounded the crowd with her messages of solidarity and devotion.
The sun was in the early stages of approaching the horizon. Crowds of families and friends of all ages sat comfortably on picnic rugs, waiting for the entertainment to start. An outdoor gig always comes with risk, but you couldn’t have asked for a better night.
The temperature was warm, the sky was clear and music was wholesome but lively. A message ran through the speakers, acknowledging the traditional owners of the land.
The bubbly shape of Thando appeared and greeted the audience with zest. She began with her eloquent and elegant brand of soul and R&B. “It’s never too early to be a bit sexy,” Thando announced with a grin, busting into her track ‘Inferno’. But this one is “a family version,” she added, gazing at the children running about.
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“The best thing about this lineup is that we are all family,” Thando announced, as Remi was welcomed to the stage, together performing their track ‘Numb’.
She then left the stage, and it was Remi’s time to shine.
Before he uttered a greeting or lyric, he took the time to acknowledge the traditional landowners. This began his theme of peaceful protest and support. A continuous flow of music played out from his band, consisting of four to eight musicians at a time.
Producer and bandmate Sensible J sat on the drums, and the illustrious N’fa Jones stood in as hype man.
“This show’s about family,” Remi shouted, as he welcomed the headliner onto the stage, to perform their collaboration, ‘For Good’. Sampa The Great then disappeared, and he brought Thando back for ‘My People’.
“If you’re not male and caucasian you ain’t shit,” blared the lyrics of ‘Ode to Ignorance’. Remi brought with him a good time, but his message was strong and sobering.
When Sampa came onstage, there was no denying her presence. She was surrounded by instrumentalists and three backing vocalists, including Thando. She kicked into the music and it only took two tracks before Remi was brought onstage again, to take part in ‘Flowers’.
Sampa kicked into ‘Black Girl Magik’, her energy infectious as the crowd stood hypnotised by her presence. Four back up dancers moved in unison as her accompanying vocalists harmonised, filling the atmosphere with vigour.
“Say ‘I am beautiful,’” Sampa shouted, eliciting a sonic avalanche from the crowd in response.
“I have been blessed to be on this stage to support Joey Bada$$ and Kendrick.”
With Kendrick’s name uttered, the band changed its tune to match Kendrick’s iconic track, ‘Alright’.
Sampa interacted joyfully with the crowd. She commanded respect with ease, and no audience member felt out of place or uneager to join in her call and response. It was astonishing to watch her transform from this jovial character into a deity of rhythm.
“Are there are any queens out there?” she shouted to the audience, kicking into her own anthem of empowerment, ‘FEMALE’. This concluded with a woodwind solo outro, leaving everyone encapsulated.
“I want to talk about the queen who got me on this stage. Does anyone here know Lauryn Hill?”
The crowd fell into frenzy. ‘That Thing’ started playing and Sampa brought her own intensity and love to the cult classic.
The sun had mostly disappeared, and the trees surrounding the outdoor area were lit up. The stage was dressed in bright colours of red, orange and yellow to match. Sampa introduced her track ‘Bye River’ over an atmospheric instrumental.
This rendition of the track was so effervescent that it wouldn’t be out of place in a major broadway production. Although the already eight-minute song gained further instrumental and vocal breaks, it didn’t feel overextended or unnecessary.
Sampa the Great is an immense talent but more importantly, she has something to say.
“How you supposed to be black down under?” she asked, powerful words punching through the air as she spoke on her experience.
“Imma ask the fam to get on for this last song,” she announced, as her wholesome anthem to self love, ‘I Am Me’ began. Afterwards, Sampa left the stage, and the demonstration of love, support, and underlying peaceful protest came an end.
Lowlight: No exuberant return for a much needed encore.
Crowd favourite: Lauryn Hill – ‘That Thing’ cover.