It’s only natural to speculate on the titular meaning of Sampa the Great’s most recent album, The Return. Sampa Tembo was born in Zambia. She was raised in Botswana. She also studied in California for multiple years before settling down in Melbourne, Australia. A stable sense of location has long proven to be elusive for her. The Return, when considered as an artistic label, begs multiple questions. Where is she returning from? Where is she returning to?
Listeners soon learn that questions related to Sampa’s geography are of far less consequence to her than an exploration into her inner spiritual self. The record’s opening track “Mwana” finds her trenchantly rapping “I don’t need home to feel important”. She reiterates this sentiment on “Dare to Fly” asserting “ Home is my home is my self/I will reside in myself.”
The attempt for Sampa the Great to return to her roots is both long-winded and eclectic. This record clocks in at a lengthy 77 minutes across its 17 songs and interludes. Many of these tracks help Sampa to tell her story, but the interludes are also crucial moments for her to showcase her personality and detail exactly what she’s up against in the music industry (see the very first intermission “Wake Up”).
Much like its predecessor, Birds And The BEE9, this project blends disparate genres. The observant ear can easily pick out traces of hip-hop, soul, jazz, gospel, and reggae on The Return. The Guardian has pegged Lauryn Hill as an influence for Sampa the Great. The comparison is apt in the sense that the Australian musician is versatile enough to both rap and sing depending on the mood of the song. Her rapping chops are on full display during album highlight “Final Form”. Meanwhile, Sampa demonstrates her singing prowess on the song “Summer”.
The Return is ultimately a very revealing album for Sampa the Great. She steps out of her comfort zone, both personally and sonically, as she strives to be at peace with herself. Her journey is far from over and, as such, her return is yet incomplete. But this album should leave fans eager for wherever she embarks to next.