Live Review/ Sampa The Great @ Rough Trade

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By Guy Marcham, Deputy Music Editor

A gig which sure lived up its title. A poignant feast of afrobeat rap rhythms delivered with an exuberant and kinetic sense of spirit and energy.  

‘Thanks for coming to this church session of our own’ – Sampa Tembo gleefully shouted over the roaring cheers of the enthralled Bristol crowd. A quote that sums up the experience of seeing Sampa the Great live to a tee. For the band offer something more than a normal gig. Instead, a strong gathering of kindred souls within a gloriously rich and binding community. From powerful speeches on black identity, thoughtful declarations of faith and hedonistic dance moves – Bristol’s Rough Trade was transformed into a joyous celebration.  

Tembo represents a rather unique voice in the current rap and hip-hop scene. A woman born in Zambia but raised in Botswana and now based in Australia. Through her music, Tembo strikes a defiant pose – using her identity to carve out a distinct soundscape of joyous lyrcis and African influenced beats. ‘Freedom’ is a great expression of this, in which Tembo euphorically bounced across the stage amongst a breezy R&B backdrop. The audience gently swayed amongst its transcendent swirls and poignant lyrics.    

Particular highlight came from ‘Diamond in the Ruff’ off her empowering 2019 album The Return. The song allowed Tembo’s magnificent backing singers to show off their angelic voices and gospel rhythms. The driving refrain of ‘who is better?’ pulsed the gig into action as the crowd bounced and roared along with infectious and youthful energy. As the crowd jolted back and forth with arms swaying in the air and hips loosely swaying from side to side, smaller members of the audience had begun to get squished further and further into uncomfortably tight spaces. As the song ended, Tembo asked all smaller women to head down to the front, free in their own space to dance enjoy the soulful dance tapestries. Tembo’s lyrics of social empowerment and justice were fully realised before our own eyes.  

The gig ended in raucous fashion with a back to back of ‘OMG’ and ‘Final Form’ – perhaps her two greatest songs to date. ‘OMG’ saw Tembo fling herself in amongst the sweaty crowd in which she danced along with audience members with gleeful abandon as her masterful band kept a tight lead on the song’s energetic pulse. It best represented Tembo’s unbound-less sense of freedom. An artist who can just about do what she likes from escapist soulful dance numbers to singing in her native language. This is just the start of an intriguing musical journey.

Featured Image: Guy Marcham

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