Sampa the Great makes uplifting spiritual soul on The Return | Music Review | Chicago Reader

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Sampa the Great makes uplifting spiritual soul on The Return

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If you’re looking for an album to give you courage as you peer out at the apocalypse from behind your living-room blinds, you could do worse than Sampa the Great’s The Return (Ninja Tune). The Zambia-born, Australia-based artist released this sprawling, languid record last September, and it’s full of 90s beats, heart-on-the-dashiki rapping, and such a crowd of guest stars—Brooklyn MC Whosane, Australian singer-songwriter Thando, Melbourne artists collective Mandarin Dreams—that it feels as much like a family affair as a solo effort. Her crisp, catchy flow is down-to-earth and uncolored by Auto-Tune, whether she’s dropping boasts about Afrocentric empowerment on “OMG,” lusciously rolling the syllables of “mel-a-nin” over her teeth on “Final Form,” or soaring toward enlightenment with Australia’s Sunburnt Soul Choir on “Mwana.” As is often the case with neosoul, Sampa’s music can start to feel overly earnest by the end of the album. She seems aware of this herself; the interlude “Wake Up” is an answering-machine message from a friend who declares, “I don’t think you have time for all this finding-yourself spiritual shit.” But we’re in the middle of a life-altering time, when spiritual shit might be something we need. It’s hard not to feel grateful when Sampa and London collective Steam Down end “Summer” by singing “I’m not afraid” in ascending harmonies—the power of their voices together makes you believe their message.   v

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