Track By Track: Get a rundown of Sampa The Great's new mixtape, Birds And The BEE9
One of this year's best releases.
Last Friday saw the release of Sampa The Great's fantastic new mixtape, Birds And The BEE9, and boy did we give it a rinse over the weekend. Not only is the music excellent (she worked with producers including Kews Darko, Sensible J and Alejandro 'JJ' Apro), it's the lyrical content that demands repeat listens. As you'll read in the wonderfully detailed track by track below, Birds And The BEE9 is a deeply personal affair for Sampa, one that finds her coming to terms with her relatively fresh career, while also providing an assured picture of herself. We're stoked to be able to offer you a little deeper look behind one of the country's best young artists.
I have always loved chants. But I’ve never fully incorporated chants into a whole project. This track signifies the beginning of the process. Coming back to myself and facing what has hurt.
This was one of the best and most natural songs I have ever been a part of making. With my two favorite humans. It was a rainy day and your girl was drinking Adelaide Breakfast tea from T2. J and Jelena always hooked a sister up on many occasions with tea. Anyway, I was in the studio with Rem and he started playing keys. I don’t know if we decided we were gonna do something from scratch, but the dude already started playing. J came into the room and went straight to the drums. His magic senses were tingling. Before you know it, we had a straight jam, letting each other know what to play again and which part of the arrangement goes where.
I’m pretty sure we wrote this whole song in an hour. You would have to ask J. All I know is by the end of the day, the full song was mixed.
3. Protect Your Queen
J (Justin Smith) had shown me a beat, but had to leave for band practice. J, Remi and the band were rehearsing for Byron Bay Blues & Roots Festival. I had first heard the beat a day before, but was probably exhausted from recording something that took all my soul away. So I saved the writing for the next day. The next day, we had chopped up and gone back and forth with what later became the foundation of the song. After J left for rehearsal, I ate some chocolate and got down to business.
Since J was not there, I just recorded my lead vocal and some backing vocals as a guide. He came back to a full song with verses, hooks and a spoken word to top it of. This may have been some of the fastest writing I have ever done. I also kept seeing the number nine. On the radio, on top of the fridge, microwave and on my phone. So I secretly call this track “9”.
4. Rhymes To The East
This was the very first song recorded on this project. As soon as I heard this beat I knew it fit into what I wanted this project to sound like. The colours of the sonics were beautiful and powerful and as soon as it played, I started writing. I knew exactly what I wanted to say in this song and I was immediately transported to the East (I literally felt like I was transported during the recording of this track). It was a stand out track to me and one of the strongest lyrics I have ever captured to date.
5. Can I Get A Key
This track was one of three tracks sent to me by my manager Carl from his friend Kwesi. I had communicated with Kwesi online before actually meeting him and it wasn’t till I went to London for a tour of shows that I met him. Kwesi is a real G and a volt for true inspiration and advice. He also has one of the funniest first impressions ever.
We re-recorded this song in Kwesi’s studio as I had written it before meeting him. This song is about the limiting belief that you need to ask people for permission to do you and express your art. Interesting that the supposed gatekeepers of the art world, constantly look to the culture for “new art”.
6. Black Girl Magik
The first time I heard this track it was one of three sent to me by my manager Carl from his friend Kwesi. I think I was at a period where I hadn’t recorded anything for a while and I was starting to get restless for an avenue to write and express. After recording the demo to the song, I reached out to one of my best friends Nicole Gumbe and asked her if she could sing on the track. Being from the underground, I understand that they’re amazing artists, who, given the same opportunity I have been given, would take the world by storm. Nicole is one of those artists and one of Botswana’s best vocalist in fact.
When she told me she could sing on the track, I sent her the lyrics and we continued working from there. It’s quite scary that the track almost didn’t make it to the project. Because of the time difference it was hard to communicate this beautiful song. But lucky we had my brother Kaindu mediate, record Nicole’s vocal for us in Botswana and deliver them on time. Funnily enough, I had written the lyrics to BGM a while ago and this was the only time I was able to add previsouly written lyrics that fitted well into the song. I wrote these lyrics in a
bathroom at a lodge while playing with my hair in the mirror. I had recently shaved my sides and was spotting the “edgy black girl look” as I cut to the many African tribes we're the women been rocking like this for a minute already.
Made me think of the images that are always on our TV screens that inspire our look and my little sister who had grown up without a black doll. Always conscious of the imagery and representation, in this case, lack of representation. I decided to write a song that celebrates me
and my sisters.
Casper is one of the dopest instrumentals I’ve ever heard. Third beat by producer Kwesi Darko. The first time I heard Casper, I knew exactly where the first verse started. I could only see the pocket later in the song and as soon as I replayed to rap my verse I was like “Damn,
that’s a long fucking intro” and it stuck.
Casper is definitely about a period in time of losing people around you. Sometimes by interest, other times by circumstance. All feels the same to me.
8. Karma The Villain
For this song, Remi had sent me some of JJ (Alejandro Abapo)'s beats. Emphasis on some, I have always wanted to work with him and think he is an amazing artist, composer and human. This dude radiates!
Anyway, the beat to Karma The Villain came on and 10 seconds in, I got all the inspiration I needed. My brain went straight to Madvillain. I have been wanting to make a “villain” song for a long time now, or at least a song that expresses a change in character. Be it alter ego/darkness or the “hero to a villain”, I had the narrative in my head.
9. Bye River
I was on my way to JJ (Silent Jay)'s house and my friend Areej came with me. It wasn’t the first song we worked on together from scratch, but was definitely the first with just the two of us making the whole song. JJ asked me what I was listening to and what was inspiring me. I told him chants, gospel, poetry and Marvin Gaye. That’s the ultimate album sound. I was actually listening to Callie Day’s rendition of Walk Around Heaven All Day. She’s an amazing artist I stumbled across on the internet as I witnessed her slay a vocal range your fave only dreams of slaying.
JJ, Areej and I then had a mini church session right in his room. Super inspired by the power of these amazing Black women who inspired the genres that are here today. After we were delivered, we started Bye River. I remember JJ trying out this incense called “spiritual master” and I feel like it definitely unlocked the spiritual master in both of us.
10. Inner Voice
So Remi dropped me off at JJ’s place and we were super ready to record more music. After trying a couple of instrumentals, we were sort of going around in circles. We didn’t know what sound we were after and so we kind of laid back and JJ started playing the keys. He hit some crazy notes and I just started humming and singing to them. From then, we created the chorus and continued to build on that. It was crazy how fast this song built up. At this point, JJ and I had already established how to communicate with each other musically.
Once the foundation was made, I added guide vocals and left them to a singer I knew would execute them well. The one and only, my little sister Mwanje Tembo. If I know a person who was born to sing, Mwanje is that person.
11. ~The Truth Interlude~
I had initially written this song with the intention of having one version. But I am very aware that I am on Indigenous land and I wanted to make sure I expressed the meeting of two cultures. I hit up Zaachariaha and Michael from Electric Fields after I saw their performance at Women Of The World - amazing spirits and artists - so very blessed and humbled to hear the vocals that were done in this track. Everyone who hears this track cries.
Sat 18 Nov - Strawberry Fields, The Wildlands
Fri 24 Nov - Paradise @ Melbourne Music Week, Melbourne
Sat 25 Nov - Spilt Milk, Canberra
Fri 1 Dec - Subsonic, Monkerai
Sat 9 Dec - Festival Of The Sun, Port Macquarie
Thu 28 Dec - Lost Paradise, Glenworth Valley
Sat 31 Dec - Beyond The Valley, Warragul
Mon 1 Jan - Freedom Time, Melbourne
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