Live Review: Sampa The Great Presents 'An Afro Future'

30 May 2022 | 3:46 pm | Shaun Colnan

“As dope as it is to do the high energy stuff…the thing I love most is to show vulnerability…to show my fears.”

(Pic by Prudence Upton)

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“The journey of life is amazing. From its origin and point of creation. So much life, so much freedom…” These are the words that welcome an eager audience into a special night, a night three years in the making. Sampa The Great, the Zambian-born rapper, poet, performer presents An Afro Future - a show that fans would have seen rescheduled numerous times.

Backed by an all-Zambian band, “the first all-Zambian band to play Coachella, the first all-Zambian band to play the Sydney Opera House,” Sampa lifted the theatrics of her live show to a new level.

Though the Joan Sutherland Theatre provided seats, they were rarely needed as Sampa and a troupe of high-energy dancers coaxed the crowd into standing and dancing in the aisles. The red of the globe light at the back of the stage and the dried reeds strewn across the space recalled the homeland she had returned to during the pandemic, yet this was more than just a momentous occasion for Zambian music.

As she said, “That’s what an Afro future is all about: not having to prove your Africanness, your blackness. It’s just allowing us to be.” This show blended philosophy, African diasporic aesthetics and poetry to create a masterpiece of expression. At times, Sampa would be sitting on stage, reflecting on black female identity in a homage to her little sister, called Black Girl Magic. “I wanted her to see how beautiful she is,” she said as an introduction while a solo dancer with afro and leotard blended ballet and experimental free form during the track.

Pic by Daniel Boud

At other times, the lid almost blew off the theatre; especially towards the close of the show with tracks like the killer, Final Form. This was an all-out assault on the senses - in the best possible way - with the frenetic dance troupe pushing to the very borders of the stage, calling on the crowd to lose themselves before congregating around their band leader to dance in unison.

Every dance number was charged with a furious energy which saw the dancers convulsing and contorting into miraculous positions. Earlier tracks in the set like Freedom and Energy showcased the vocal variations arising from the family-friendly ensemble with Sampa’s sister, Mwanjé and cousin, Tio Nason as backup singers.

Sampa broke into monologues throughout the set, showing a settled stagecraft, belying her small stature. She commands in every facet of her performance, reflecting, “As dope as it is to do the high energy stuff…the thing I love most is to show vulnerability…to show my fears.” 

She also called on crowds to embrace self-love, nodded to recent collaborators Denzel Curry and Angélique Kidjo and even had time to cover Gabriel Garzón-Montano’s Agüita, saying, “I realised there were other languages out there,” again demonstrating her versatility.