Zambian-born hip-hop artist Sampa the Great (born Sampa Tembo) is based in Australia, but don’t call her an Australian rapper. “That’s not completely getting who I am,” she tells Apple Music. “Zambia is a part of my identity, and I wanted to show that story.” Her flow is as polished, exciting, and rich as the production, and her lyrics are poetic, clever, proud, and deeply, necessarily truthful. Tembo’s debut album isn’t just an introduction to her story, it’s part of it. And when she visited her home to perform for the first time, it changed her story altogether. “For me, I was the person who had a place to go to, a home to go to,” she says. “I was writing from that perspective until I did my shows there. People would say, ‘You know, you kind of sound different. You sound a bit watered down. You haven’t been home for a while, your accent has changed.’ It put me in this funny place. It hurt. I felt like I was finally home, but the people from home were like, ‘You’re not from here.’ And so it really opened me up to a part of my own life that I didn’t think existed. And it made me understand the emotions that come out of those circumstances for others—there are a lot of people from where I come from who can’t go home.” Read on to learn more about the stories behind some of her favorite tracks on The Return.
“Mwana” (feat. Mwanje Tembo, Theresa Mutale Tembo & Sunburnt Soul Choir) “It’s the first song you hear on the album, on my journey. It’s literally my return home, physically, but also spiritually. My sister and mum are on the song, and it’s the first time I’ve ever done a song in Bemba [the Bantu language spoken by Sampa’s family]. The album is supposed to be about reassuring yourself of who you are, where you’re from, and how to navigate that, and this is such a special song to me and for the album. And the Sunburnt Soul Choir are amazing. Their voices are beautiful. I love the level of connection there.”
“Freedom" “It’s very important to me to talk about the risk that artists take. Everybody knows the artist through their songs, but they don’t know the artist behind the music. It’s important for me to highlight that sometimes the business, the money, and the hustle to put your music out there and earn a living can give you some compromises. ‘Freedom’ is me expressing how, as a young up-and-coming artist, it’s so important to know who I am and to not compromise that.”
“OMG” “‘OMG’ reminds me of home and the music that I heard when I was young. Homesickness was getting in the way of me being content with everything that was happening professionally. Hearing my music is on a radio station [in Australia] is beautiful, but it’s not personally reaching me because I didn’t grow up here. It was different when we did go home. I was interviewed by a rapper I listened to when I was younger, who I’d wanted to meet as a child, and then the radio station by my high school played my songs. I don’t take [being in Australia] for granted, but I also know that my inspiration, all my music and artistry comes from my home. So to be able to bridge those two—who I am and where I’m based—has made me more assured of who I am.”
“Final Form” “‘Final Form’ shaped the sound of the album. It’s very cinematic. I felt like I was bringing people into a movie of my life. I’ve not fully told my narrative or my story, and the problem with that is then the story is created for me, instead of the other way around. So I’m showing you where I’m from. In the video, I show you my parents, the school I went to. Whatever you create out of that, that’s your business, but this is my story. I needed to create that musically and visually.”
“The Return” (feat. Thando, Jace XL, Alien & Whosane) “We broke down in the studio while recording this. It’s such a vulnerable, special song, because of the perspectives it brings to the forefront, stuff that I didn't write. Everyone on the song is speaking from their individual perspectives, their lives, and how they’re affected by the places they stay in. What I know to be true is that your real home is your soul. Your body. For people who can’t go home, that’s their alternative. They have to call a place that’s not really their home, their home. ‘The Return’ talks about getting to the crux of who you think you are and where you think your home is, and trying to recreate that within yourself. We really broke down, but we let the world hear how vulnerable and scared we are. That’s what I love about it.”