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Sampa The Great Takes Zamrock On The Road — And To Chicago

Written by on June 16, 2023

Singer Sampa The Great catches up with Vocalo’s afternoon host Nudia Hernandez about her most recent projects, collaborations and more. 

Zambian artist Sampa The Great evolves and enriches the genre Zamrock with her creativity and boundless artistry. Zamrock is a genre native to Zambia, combining sounds of traditional African music, garage rock, blues, folk and more. Incorporating their Zamrock roots, Sampa The Great and her band recently released a deluxe edition of 2022 album As Above, So Below, adding seven live tracks recorded live in Lusaka, Zambia. She worked with other Zambian musicians on the album, and created a mini documentary to show the work which went into it. 

Sampa The Great by Imraan Christian.

Now on tour in support of the album, Sampa brings Zamrock across the globe — and is again in the process of creating a small documentary to show the work behind the scenes on the road.

“[To be the] first Zambian band to do this, that and the third is really beautiful,” she explained. “But to be able to document the moments behind that, the moments that led to that, the moments behind the scenes when we’re nervous to go on, as well as showing what we’re saying to each other, to encourage each other, I think are moments that really need to be documented and shared with the world.”

Sampa and her band are continuously breaking barriers as the first Zambian band to perform at Lollapalooza and Coachella. While on tour in April, she also got the opportunity to perform on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, making her and her band the show’s first Zambian performers. During the set, Sampa got to take the stage with Angelique Kidjo, an inspiration of hers.

“It’s crazy to know we are inspiring younger Zambian musicians to reach these goals and use us as the example of their dreams,” Sampa said.

Her song “Never Forget” was also featured in a trailer for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, which she feels is one of the highlights of her career. The collaboration seemed to happen by fate; a Marvel music supervisor heard “Never Forget” live during one of Sampa’s Los Angeles shows in 2022. He told her they wanted to use the song for the film, giving her a sneak peek of the trailer. Although she wasn’t heavily involved in the editing of her music for the trailer, she felt inspired to pursue more work in relation to film.

RELATED: Sampa The Great At Lollapalooza ’22: African Music Is Unlimited

“I actually did study some for film, and so maybe this is just a young reminder that that’s the direction I want to go,” she said. “I don’t think people know that backstory.”

The global reach of her audience and touring is what Sampa’s focus will be set on for the near future, filming and documenting the journey and musical process along the way. While on the road to Chicago for her June 14 show at Thalia Hall in support of As Above, So Below, Sampa the Great called in to chat with Vocalo’s afternoon host Nudia Hernandez on the air — nearly a year after the two sat down for a conversation at Lollapalooza. They delved into the journey behind her most recent endeavors, as well as her musical innovation which shaped the new album.

Nudia Hernandez: We’ve got a special guest on the line, I’m gonna go ahead and bring them up. Now, we kind of went there last year at Lollapalooza, it’s almost been close to a full year since the last time we spoke. But on the line, we do have Sampa The Great! 

Sampa The Great: Hello, how are you? 

NH: I’m doing great. How are you?

S: I’m good. I’m great.

NH: I mean, it looks like things have been going great. I mean, I think the last time we spoke, former President Obama had put you on his summer playlist, and we were kind of geeking out over that. You remember?

S: Yeah, yeah, I do. And that was just when we landed in Chicago, too. That was wild.

NH: I know. And since then, you’ve gotten to do so much. I mean, you got to meet Michelle Obama, right?

S: Yes, yes, we did Fallon’s show, myself and the queen Angelique Kidjo, and we got to meet Michelle Obama. And it was insane. She’s so amazing, and just really encouraging. That was something huge. Again, another picture to send to mom to say, “See, this music stuff is really, actually moving!” That was really amazing. And then I got to do the last album, where I got to work, again, with musicians from Zambia, but also create a young mini documentary to share with the world just to show the musicians behind the album, which was really lovely, and now I’m on tour.

NH: I love that. And … one of the first videos I saw from you was — of course, we’re an NPR Music station. You did the NPR Tiny Desk during the pandemic. So it was an at-home one. But it was one of the most beautiful settings I’ve seen, not only where you did the Tiny Desk, but everyone’s outfits and the clothing and the colors. It was … in my mind, one of the highlights, one of the best Tiny Desks I’ve seen so far.

S: Thank you, we really wanted to bring people to Zambia, so I’m glad you felt that.

NH: And since then, I mean, you and your band have been known for breaking barriers as the first all-Zambian band to have performed at Lollapalooza, Coachella and on The Tonight Show. How does that feel for you and your band?

S: It feels amazing. It’s something that we’ve all dreamt about doing. And we finally get to do it. But also, it’s crazy to know that we’re inspiring younger Zambian musicians to want to reach these goals as well. And they’re sort of using us as the examples of their dreams, which is wild. So it’s a really good space. We’re really excited about where we are. 

NH: Yeah, I know we feel like representation is so important. I love that. And another big project you work on, I feel like there’s so many on here. I was so excited to talk to you. You got to work on a theme for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, the song “Never Forget.”

S: Yes. “Never Forget” was on a trailer for Black Panther, which was really wild. And I guess our country sort of went into an uproar when the trailer came on because it was just huge for all of us … That is still one of the highlights of my career.

NH: I love it, I love that … You really have to keep sending these things to mom, or does she already know it’s all paying off?

S: [Laughs] I think I’ve proved myself, I think we’re good!

NH: Right? You’re like, “Look…” She’s bragging everyone, I’m sure … You’ve been, like you said, touring  … in April, you were on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. What was that experience like?

S: It was insane. To be able to also have my sister at that performance was really monumental for both of us. To be with Anjelique Kidjo, to sort of, basically, introduce myself to the world through someone who’s legendary and has paved the way for me was amazing. To meet Jimmy, as well, that was insane. So funny. That was really good. And then, obviously, to top it all off, meeting Michelle Obama was a highlight, as well.

NH: I mean, that sounds like some Beyoncé level, right? That sounds like …

S: Not yet! It was really amazing.

NH: Yeah, making a debut like The Tonight Show, I mean, that’s a big piece of pop, American culture. And when we talked before, we talked about you gaining notoriety in your home country, and also you were in Australia, gained a lot of notoriety there. And I feel like now, it’s kind of on a global scale. So what’s next for you? You’re on tour, and is that what you’re focusing on, tour and this last album?

S: So tour, for the next two months, will definitely be what the brain focus will be, and sharing music with the rest of the world, the new album. Having people listen to the deluxe and actually hear the story of why As Above, So Below came into play. Why working with musicians from home was important to me, why I chose the album title. But then, from there, I’m really diving into film and documenting these experiences. Because, again, [to be the] first Zambian band to do this, that and the third is really beautiful. But to be able to document the moments behind that, the moments that led to that, the moments behind the scenes when we’re nervous to go on, as well as showing what we’re saying to each other, to encourage each other, I think are moments that really need to be documented and shared with the world. So definitely looking more into film and sort of documenting the journey.

NH: I love that, because once you get on that level, and we can’t get a hold of you anymore, we’ll be able to see your story. You’re gonna have more people for us to go through to call you! And we have an intern in the studio, I’m gonna let her introduce herself. But she’s a big fan. And she did a lot of research for this interview. So I said I would let her ask one question, because I know she really loves you. 

Imani Warren: Hi, Sampa!

S: Hi, how are you? 

IW: Good! I’m Imani, I’m the intern here at Vocalo. 

S: Hi, Imani. 

Nudia Hernandez and Sampa The Great at Lollapalooza 2022. Makenzie Creden/Vocalo Radio

IW: I just have one question for you. So with the making of your music for Black Panther and for the trailer, what does that look like for you? Is it different than the process for making a normal song for you? Or is it very similar?

S: Well, for that one, in particular, the studio sort of took the lead on that. So we were doing a show in LA last year, and one of the music supervisors for, I guess, Marvel was in the audience. And they heard “Never Forget” live, they heard me talk about the story. They heard me and my band. And thought this should definitely be a part of the story for Black Panther. So they told us that they’re going to use “Never Forget,” and sort of sent us a sneak peek of the trailer. We had all our stems given to them, and usually with these films, they have someone there to actually edit and chop and make the music, so I wasn’t heavily involved in the music behind the trailer. So once we got it, that was me actually seeing, “Oh, okay, this is how they used the vocals. This is how they used the rap, this is how they use this, that and the third.” And once I was fine with how it looked like, it was chill. I was like, “Yeah, we’re good to go.” And that’s sort of how it was. It did inspire me to do more music for film, because I actually did study some for film, and so maybe this is just a young reminder that that’s the direction I want to go.

IW: No, it’s very impressive. Thanks so much for answering my question. I appreciate it. 

NH: That was a great question, right? Okay, intern! Our intern’s coming through. 

S: It was, it was a good question! I don’t think people know that backstory, that was a good question.

IW: I had to research a little bit, but I love it. 

NH: And you have a show tonight, right? Can people still get tickets?

S: Yes, at the door. Thalia Hall, doors at 7:30, and I’m being supported by the great Haviah Mighty, so come on down. It’s a Zamrock themed show, so it’s not going to be like last year. It’s heavily Zamrock, and we actually get to show you why we’re influenced by this music. It’s a lot of high energy, good vibes, very positive, and Haviah’s set is really beautiful. So you should really come and check us out.

NH: I love that. Again, tonight, Thalia Hall, Sampa The Great, we have her on the line. It’s been so great catching up with you. And I did want to finish off this interview, because you mentioned your album, As Above, So Below, the deluxe edition came out. And I love this, because I would love to see more artists do what you did, you put some live tracks on here.

S: Yes. I mean, live music, African music. That’s the bread and butter of African music, is sharing the instruments. Because that’s a language in itself. So to be able to show that, and have people listen to that was really on the top of the list, and also to show the musicians behind the album so people can actually see them and hear them, and feel their performance, because performance is another thing, it’s another avenue to be able to connect with people. So I’m glad we did that, and I’m glad people enjoyed.

Follow Sampa The Great on Twitter and Instagram, and listen to her music below.

Interview by Nudia Hernandez

Audio production by Nudia Hernandez and Morgan Ciocca

Introduction written by Imani Warren

Transcription and editing for length and clarity by Morgan Ciocca

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