The big takeaway from the 2020 ARIAs? That Sampa The Great is the best we have
The Melbourne-based, Botswana-raised, Zambian-born rapper continues to reach new peaks, proving there's truly no-one else like her.
Header image by Lucian Coman.
As most people would've caught on social media, last night brought a weird, coronavirus-friendly take of the ARIA Awards – the night that highlights and celebrates the supposed peaks of commercial music in Australia. There was Delta Goodrem congratulating everyone for everything as this year's host, beamed-in performances from Billie Eilish and Sam Smith (amongst a plethora of Australian talent), and sad faces from Lime Cordiale – the most-nominated act of this year's event, who only walked away with one award by the time the night was over.
In regards to the awards and who won what, there's always the same arguments – and this year is certainly no different. Tame Impala won Album of the Year (not a surprise, considering they won it with Lonerism and Currents too); 5SOS won Song of the Year in what's called a robbery to some but well-deserved to others; Lime Cordiale enraged The Kid LAROI fans by taking out Breakthrough Artist of the Year; Tame Impala won Best Group in yet another addition to the confusing "do we call them a solo outfit or a band" discourse that happens every album release.
However, there's one big takeaway to leave this year's ARIA Awards with, and it's all about Sampa The Great. Last year, Sampa The Great made history as being the first-ever woman to win in a hip-hop category at the ARIA Awards, eclipsing the domination of largely-white, always-male groups that have taken it out through history. However, her acceptance speech was barrel-rolled by adverts, which cut her speech out of the telecast and inspired the brilliant ad-lib to Time's Up: "Fuck the dance / Fuck the list / Fuck the ARIAs."
Nevertheless, she wasn't just invited back to the ARIAs this year, she made it her own. Sampa The Great was the act everyone was talking about by the show's end, first winning Best Hip-Hop Release for the second year running - her acceptance speech was shown this time, but the award was given out during the non-televised pre-show event - before taking out Best Independent Release and eventually Best Female Artist, beating out some of the biggest musicians we have (Amy Shark, Tones and I, SIA).
All her speeches were poignant and celebratory. Winning Best Hip-Hop release, she took the time to celebrate the lasting legacy - and takeover - of Black artists in hip-hop categories after so many years of influencing the genre's very foundations. As she won Best Independent Artist, she hailed creative freedom and being an independent musician. Her Best Female Artist win was one of the best, leading to a celebration of women - women of colour especially - and their foundations amongst an industry seemingly built against them.
Nevertheless, the awards' most impactful moment came through Sampa's performance, pre-recorded from Botswana. The performance included a sharp spoken-word section, an interpolation of Freedom's final verse, before launching into cries of "BLACK POWER!", and the celebratory impact of Final Form. The powerful message at the start was a highlight amongst the whole award ceremony, but honestly, it's quite a surprise that it wasn't removed from the broadcast, considering its call-out of the ARIA Board itself:
"In a country that pretends to not see Black, to not see its origins and its past… not only did Black visionaries make you see, but made it known who created human history," she said. "And when we win awards, they toss us on the ad breaks, of course, but it’s that history lost, can’t remember what you forgot. Is it free, this industry, for people like me? Diversity, equity, in your ARIA Awards? To my people I say: ‘We are our own freedom'.".
The following performance was the show's best. It was a celebration - with a slight call to action - of Black creativity and Black talent, capturing the heights of Sampa The Great's well-known brilliance amongst a chorus of vocalists and dancers; the heights of which being a reminder of Sampa The Great's excellence even a full year following the release of her powerful debut album The Return.
If nothing else, it was something that proved Sampa The Great's art is the best Australia has to offer. Many would - and some have - argued that SIA should've won Best Female Artist as she's sold more records, or that The Kid LAROI. should've taken out Best Hip-Hop Release considering he's Australia's best-performing artist in the US for years and years now. However, The Return - and Sampa The Great - is built from generations of cultural importance, a spotlight shined on somewhere that often, as she saw herself, is left for the ad breaks or pre-show, let alone the main event.
There's truly no-one else like Sampa The Great. So, instead of drowning out her celebrations with jewellery adverts or pushing her albums to more 'mature' and 'diverse' platforms away from the commercial eye, how about we take the time to relish in the power and art of the best we have.
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