Across 19 tracks, Sampa The Great’s debut album is a wide-ranging, ambitious beast

Across 19 tracks, Sampa The Great’s debut album is a wide-ranging, ambitious beast

Sampa The Great
Words by Scott Hudson

Sampa Tembo is a master of her craft but almost as importantly, she understands the value of collaboration.

The Return is stacked with features from artists of African descent, Australian and abroad. Nineteen tracks is a lot to ask of any listener but Sampa’s control of cadence paired with well-produced, well-performed instrumentals and choir sections, is enough for you to chronically listen to ‘just one more’.

Opening with ‘Mwana’, Sampa sets the tone of heritage and home well with its very first words, performed in Nyanja (one of Zambia’s native tongues) – a language scattered throughout the tracklist. The project is a smooth blend of soul, jazz and funk, whilst also indulging in some traditional boom-bap hip hop.

‘The Return’, ‘Don’t Give Up’ and ‘Made Us Better’, are nine, seven and six minutes long respectively but leave no minute wasted as they avoid repetition and explore elements of storytelling seamlessly. ‘OMG’ and ‘Final Form’ were well-picked singles, infused with energy and groove that spurs an inadvertent head nod while you listen along.

‘Time’s Up’ is Sampa’s empowered message toward “Black Excellence” in the music industry, inviting local Melbourne MC, Krown, to help fuel the message. “I’ve seen the industry kill dream of a dreamer”, is the hook that bonds the pair’s perspectives and experiences. Thando adds her incredible voice to ‘Diamond in the Ruff’, alongside another verse from Krown, while Ecca Vandal contributes an ethereal chorus over a prominent drum beat in ‘Dare to Fly’.

Whilst there are definitely some great standalone tunes, this is an album to enjoy back to front – and is there a better way to listen to music?