Often when talking about hip-hop, the conversation is limited to the United States, and perhaps some of the UK, but the genre is worldwide now. Hip-hop has touched nearly every corner of the globe. One of the rising stars of the global hip-hop scene comes in the form of Zambian-born, Australia-based artist Sampa the Great. Scoring accolades for years now, and with the pandemic concert cancellations mostly behind us, Sampa embarked on her first North American tour this year. She stopped in Washington D.C. on her second stop of the tour to headline the 9:30 Club on March 29, 2022.
Upon entering the 9:30 Club just before the show started, the crowd was sparse and dispersed. There was a lot of empty space and not too many people standing around waiting. When the opener, KeiyaA unceremoniously came to the microphone and began singing, the crowd slowly gathered toward the front of the venue to watch. After a song, KeiyaA introduced herself, and explained that she produces her own music. She embodied a refreshing DIY spirit on a large stage like the 9:30 Club. KeiyaA sang through sometimes rhythm-less instrumentals, occasionally evolving into screaming outbursts of emotion. The crowd seemed to be watching the show like a coffee house poetry night, quietly listening and contemplating, with some members of the crowd even snapping at lines powerful to them.
More arrived during the opening set, filling the space a bit before the headliner came. The crowd was still sparse enough to spread out, and respectful enough not to crowd each other, even during the most intense moments of music. After about 40 minutes of down time between sets, used to set up a Sampa the Great banner at the rear of the stage. A mic stand with the Zambian flag that had been on stage since the beginning was moved to center.
Sampa’s band took the stage first, each arriving at their respective instruments, tuning and checking everything before the performance. The band began to play, and Sampa entered swinging to the rhythm. She introduced her fully Zambian band, then played through her catalog, from the relatively old to unreleased material. Sampa took the time between songs to speak to the audience about herself and her art and thank them for the opportunity to tour the United States for the first time. She explained how important certain types of songs were to her, slowing things down in the middle to play some more introspective material.
Sampa the Great’s name is no lie. Her performance is dynamic and interesting, and even if the crowd was a little sparse that evening, that is not a reflection of her talent. The diverse, appreciative crowd was supportive from beginning to end, giving Sampa a taste of what’s likely to come on the rest of her tour.