After breaking onto the Australian music scene with her brilliant debut The Great Mixtape in 2015, Sampa The Great hasn’t stopped kicking goals and making a name for herself and her refreshing, empowering music and spoken word poetry. With her latest EP, HERoes Act 2, released on 12 May via Red Bull Sound Select, Sampa Tembo is continuing to prove why she is one of the most exciting singer/songwriters in Australia.
Late 2016 saw Tembo introduce the world to her HERoes project with a slam-poetry video introducing herself and her art, but though HERoes Act 2 is a natural progression, Tembo has definitely seen a change between the releases. “It’s more reflection, a self-love check,” she muses over the phone. “It’s a reminder to continue the journey you’re on and make sure that the stuff you are doing is for you and not to please everybody. It’s just a journey of self-reflection, at the point that you’re in now, from where you started. It’s not a long time ago, but regardless, making sure that you’re doing everything that you’re doing now, for you.”
The whole EP was an extensive collaboration between Tembo, internationally acclaimed singer-songwriter Estelle and Grammy Award-winning producer Rahki (Kendrick Lamar, Syd, Mac Miller), and was an incredibly valuable opportunity for Tembo to develop a set of tracks where she could be involved in all stages of the process whilst also letting them do their thing.
“I think what happened during this EP, we all knew that sound-wise we wanted to start building it together, we wanted to be in the room as the song was building, in the room as the beat was being chosen. I don’t wanna do too much, I let the producers do what they do. But in this one it was more ‘Okay, let’s all work together to make the song what we want it to be.'”
Collaborating with other artists and producers has always played a key role in Tembo’s music, but working with international industry heavyweights like Estelle and Rahki was a completely new and daunting experience. “I can say that I did go through a little phase of like being star struck,” she laughs. “I remember when we reached there, we went straight into the studio, so there was no day or so to get used to the fact that we were about to go into the studio with Estelle and Rahki, it was just straight in and I hadn’t prepared my mind yet.
“For the first two days it was a lot of ‘Oh what do you think about this?’ / ‘Oh I don’t know, I don’t know anything’, and that really held back the creative process for the first few days. I remember asking Rahki before we left the second day at the night for a beat so that I could just write, and I remember in the morning that became Everybody’s Hero.
“So we went in without any pressure or anything, went straight to the studio in the morning before they came because I was so excited, and recorded it. They came in and we played it, and were like ‘Man this is really good.’ And I think from that day it was more about just expressing what I have to say, knowing who is there in that space, no matter who they are or what they’ve done, they wanted to be there.”
Vulnerability has become something that Tembo has slowly become more comfortable with during the collaboration process, and this experience was no different. “We had talks before we even started the music, just talk about where we are in life, what we want to do with music, how we fell in love with music, how has time changed it. Getting close to each other so that it’s easy to continue working on these songs together. The songs would be created almost like we were conversing with each other.”
When it comes to influences, the EP has such a strong focus on Tembo and her journey that it’s no surprise that the most notable influence is Tembo herself. “I feel like because these ones are very, very self-reflective of the time I was in then, that was just me actually catching up on everything that had happened to me; the shows, the festivals, being a new artist.
Tembo has been hitting stages in the UK, as well as gearing up for a co-headline Australian tour with her frequent collaborators and friends Remi and Sensible J. “The guys were one of the first people to come up to me and be like ‘Contact me if you ever feel like things are too much’ and I feel like for a time where we didn’t really know each other, that love and support was one, really needed, and two, very special, because they didn’t need to know me to know that they could do that.
“That’s sort of something that we wanted to bring to our shows, that love and support that’s kind of losing itself right now, and bring that to everyone. Let them know that this is a space that they can come and enjoy themselves; laugh, meet new people from other places and just give themselves love. These shows will hopefully be amazing!”
Tembo and her band have been busy lately too, playing a bunch of shows including Laneway Festival, where her set got everyone talking about the brilliant multi-coloured capes that spread from Tembo down into the crowd. “It was awesome to see people take capes home,” she recalls. “That’s what it was all about, bridging the artist/audience gap, making sure they understand that we are actually all the same and putting capes on everybody so that everybody sees themselves as their own hero.
“It’s very metaphoric. The cape is basically what you see good about yourself, your strengths. It is the good in you, and then putting that on your back as a metaphor; these are my strengths and I’m going to nurture them and you can see me grow. Added to that, the colours on the cape are from an Indigenous artist called Otis Carey. It’s also to make sure I respect where I am as well while I’m doing this, as I’m growing, and make sure that I grow the community as well as I’m doing it, so the cape is very metaphorical in that sense. And that’s why everyone should wear one!”