Sampa the Great
Credit: Imraan Christian

Sampa Tembo was born in Zambia and raised in Botswana, but she was living in Australia when she released her breakout second mixtape as Sampa the Great, 2017’s Birds and the Bee9. Sampa’s hip-hop career soon took off internationally, and after COVID-19 spread worldwide, she left Australia for Zambia. The move helped her expand her sound. In September 2022 she released her second studio album, As Above, So Below (reissued by Loma Vista in a deluxe edition last month), which makes explicit connections to her native country’s Zamrock movement of the 1960s and ’70s. On the single “Never Forget,” an echoing, cascading guitar melody reminiscent of a popular southern African genre called kalindula shares space with polished, rumbling bass and svelte electronic percussion, while “Can I Live?” features vocals from Jagari Chanda, original front man for 1970s Zamrock legends W.I.T.C.H. (“We Intend to Cause Havoc”). As Vulture pop critic and Reader contributor Justin Curto noted in an October profile, during Sampa’s exploration of Zamrock history over the past few years, she learned that her uncle George “Groovy Joe” Kunda had been an early member of W.I.T.C.H. 

“Never Forget” offers a kind of thesis statement for As Above, So Below. “We often forget the stories of people who have created things, or we often forget our own stories, because they’re usually rewritten for us,” Sampa told Curto. “African histories are often wiped out.” With this album, Sampa orients contemporary hip-hop history around her own story; she can’t speak for the entire continent, but Sampa’s pop pizzazz invites listeners to venture beyond the familiar and learn more about the musical history she’s eager to share.

Sampa the Great Haviah Mighty opens. Wed 6/14, 8:30 PM, Thalia Hall, 1807 S. Allport, $20-$30, $300 opera box, 17+