Photographer/Credits (c) Yohana Papa Onyango 

The evening was announced as a hip-hop concert. I often feel that hip-hop is a sister of poetry slam, except that hip-hoppers speak so fast that people hardly understand the words, which makes me suspect the content will be too gangster-macho. But the video on YouTube attracted my attention by its powerful poetic aesthetics:  images of womanhood and elements of Zambian culture, masks and dances referring to the ancient Gule Wamkulu secret society, speaking such a different visual language to the mainstream videos reproducing men’s fantasies of cars, watches and female hips.

So, I went to the concert at Exil (https://exil.cl) to see her live: Sampa The Great. She brought not only great women’s vibes but also deep poetry on stage. Female Energy was the title of her first song. More songs were dedicated to women: her mother, her little sister. “I want her to define beauty for herself, the way she sees herself, not the way the world sees her.” With Black Girl Magik, she speaks not only to her sister but to black queens more generally.

I found one of her black sisters at the end of the concert, who said, “Her songs are so empowering.” And I realize that the power of words and of rhythms made that girl in the audience travel to an imaginative space of female strengths. But, waiting to get her coat back from the cloakroom, she added, “. . .and then you stand in the queue and you realize (yet) again that you are in minority.” The young woman suddenly found herself again in the white landscape of snow in Zurich. A feeling of strangeness as background of her female power.

 A place I believe I belong. 
Sometimes physically,
Sometimes spiritually.
All I want is my spirit to be free.

Sampa does not only sing about home, but also wants a dialogue about it: “I do want you to ask yourself, what is home for you?” It seems that for many of the young women, the concert created a feeling of home in the sense of connectedness. Hopefully, this will continue to radiate long after the concert, despite any difference.

Her free spirit sings about flowers, birds and the bees and rarely about love. “I said to myself, that I would never sing a love song,” Sampa announces, but that evening was time for an exception. She sang a love song “for all those who have built walls around their hearts – a song so they let love in again.”

Another black queen stands next to me during the concert. Shy, putting fingers in her ears, when others clap with enthusiasm: fragile, seemingly in another universe where the music and people around her are too loud. Still, she was there for a reason stronger than that.

For the time of a song, Sampa sits down on the stage. With an invisibly directed choreography, the whole audience follows her in that movement of sitting down: Sampa on stage, the crowd on the ground of the concert hall. That moment is an inspiration to think about female leadership: guiding through emotional bonds where people do not follow when a leader impresses on them, but when she or he are most humbly human.

During that scene, my shy sister – not of colour but of soul – was the only one who remained upright, she seemed to feel uncomfortable sitting down, a shape that dances and moves inside, but not in the crowd.

Sampa The Great has tears, true tears, when the audience flows with her as a whole body. For myself, I felt touched by the courage of an outstanding presence, out of shyness.

Andrea Grieder
a_grieder@access.uzh.ch