I know that former US President Barack Obama included Sampa the Great’s Energy in his 2022 summer playlist, but he’s really sleeping on Rhymes to the East. It’s Sampa’s only ode to East Africa, beginning with a Swahili hotuba, chaperoned by a mellow beat that carries traces of a 90’s RnB track.
If you haven’t listened to Sampa the Great’s music, you should. This 29-year-old Zambian singer, rapper and song-writer could be the time-traveler musician of our time. Her hit, Never Forget, featuring Chef 187, Tio Nason and Manjé, reverberates its powerful influences from Zamrock – Zambia’s famous afro-psychedelic rock genre. The Black Panther producers couldn’t ignore it. It was the only track that could carry the highly anticipated Wakanda Forever trailer, now with 34 million views on YouTube and raving reviews.
For fans like me who would find it difficult to stomach a Wakanda without the late Chadwick Boseman’s portrayal of T’Challa, Marvel Studios and director Ryan Coogler knew they had their work cut out for them. And what better way to solve that problem than to use strong music to tap into the nostalgia of the beloved king while allowing the sequel to breathe life into its new flag-bearer. Sampa’s master-weaving of the contemporary and the past came to the rescue.
Sampa asks us to Let Her Be Great in her latest spiritual-lyrical alongside Angélique Kidjo. It sounds like the coming of age of an African woman. And it is. Kidjo, who scooped her 5th Grammy this year – becoming the artist with most wins in Global Music Category ever – made time to pass the baton to Sampa. The visuals of Let Her Be Great offer a clue of this. Every African woman who grew up listening to Kidjo’s timeless Agolo can read this moment. It’s the day your mum and aunties call you into the room to give you your grandmother’s favorite kanga, leso or kitenge, hinting at the matriarchy heading your way. In 3 minutes and 55 seconds, 62-year-old Kidjo not only allows Sampa to borrow the musical philosophy from her iconic Agolo but nudges her to claim it.
It should be a moment of clarity for music enthusiasts on the continent that Sampa, with a 63-song discography has just come off tour, opening for 22-year old Billie Eilish whose tracklist currently stands at 33. Sampa has enough solid tracks to take Obama through three summers. But more importantly, Sampa represents the growing demographic of young African singers who are producing enough good music to fill stadiums on the continent.
For new recruits, the electric Bona can introduce you to the Botswana-schooled rapper where she fuses Kwaito and Amapiano with Hiphop. And if Tswana swag aint your thing, you can bop to the soulful Lane, crafted alongside Denzel Curry or simply choose to stick to the feminist-leaning Energy or Black Girl Magik like Obama did.
This is all to say, I have no idea who the new Black Panther is, but I’ll be going to the cinemas this weekend hoping to hear Sampa’s afro-rock-rap-hop echo through the movie hall.