Sampa The Great Brought Black Girl Magic To The Sydney Opera House In ‘An Afro Future’

Sampa Tembo put Zambia on the map for Vivid festival.

Sampa The Great Zambia

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In ‘An Afro Future’, Sampa The Great delivered an affirmation of unapologetic blackness.

The Zambian-born singer and rapper shrugged her shoulders, and reimagined a world where instead of having the culture and creativity of black women ripped off without credit, they were allowed to pave the way and set the agenda without interference.

In her first Australian set since the beginning of the pandemic, Sampa Tembo performed two shows to open the annual Vivid festival, and created a portal on stage as if a spacecraft had crash-landed into the brushed plains of capital city Lusaka.

“After three years of trying to do this — THIS IS AN AFRO FUTURE,” she called out to a red-tinged room, explaining how the reality she’s creating is one of carefree agency, where she could mould her own sound and image without judgement, and encouraged her audience to do the same.

Back To Her Roots

There’s a Bemba proverb — “uwabinga ukowa teminina” —  which roughly translates to ‘when your mind is set, throw everything at it’. That hellbent, full gusto energy was at the core of ‘An Afro Future’, and felt in the rock, funk, and hip-hop driven setlist at Tembo’s fingertips.

She performed a near-two hour set, building masterful rapport with the audience with vulnerable anecdotes, dance breaks, and poetic flow. The familiarity was cemented by sharing a slice of home, Zambia, with the crowd, and putting the oft-sidelined country back on the map for Australians.

“I can’t shake this wild feeling that this is a 360 moment for me…”

“I’d like to remind you that this is a Zambian band on the stage… we’re the first Zambian band to do Coachella together, and we’re the first Zambian band to play the Sydney Opera House,” she shared in a debrief.

Having returned to Zambia at the height of the pandemic, and being unable to return back under strict border closures, she turned the stressful ordeal into fuel for her art. “I can’t shake this wild feeling that this is a 360 moment for me,” said Tembo. “I reconnected with my people, we made some music together — some wild tings!”

The African influence — an upbeat, percussion-filled richness — is rife in her latest work, wedged between recent release ‘Lane’ featuring Denzel Curry, and anthems from 2019 album The Return including ‘Final Form’. Much in the spirit of ‘Black Girl Magic’ — which was written for and about her sister, fellow singer Mwanjé Tembo, who joined her on stage — Tembo exuded black excellence and pride in her diasporic identity.

It’s not often that the Joan Sutherland Theatre, a space restricted by a rigid seating plan, is transformed into a dance floor — but Tembo commanded the crowd onto their feet. Here they willingly stayed, right through to the closing track — the fitting choice of Tupac Shakur’s 1998 classic ‘Changes’, where for a moment, it truly felt like things would never be the same.

Millie Roberts is a staff writer at Junkee, focusing on pop culture and social justice. Follow her on Twitter.

Photo Credit: Daniel Boud/Supplied