The essence of the bond shared between Sampa the Great and KYE, derives from both mutual respect and dynamism, as the pair share a conglomeration of musical firsts together. Their professional and personal appreciation for one another is irrefutably sincere, and attributes to not only their love for each other, but also their love for one another’s art. Having worked together for several years, the pair recently collaborated on one of KYE’s latest 2021 releases, Gold.
We sat in with the two artists, where conversation journeyed from reflecting on Gold, to what it’s like performing in front of your home crowd and onto their experiences with the cultural shifts, spawned from BLM movements.
Sampa: Hi friend!
KYE: Hi, how is quarantine?
Sampa: That’s a very tough first question KYE (laughs). It’s ok, it's going good - I feel like once you establish a routine, especially 'cause I'm with the cousins and we're kind of like; “8 PM watch party guys this is the movie for today”, like we really have a schedule going on. Then there’s also working on the album. I’m still doing visual stuff for it, so at least there's something for me to dive into, you know, while I’m here. What about you, what's up? What's going on in the Melbs? You had your first show! Yuhhhhhh, you’re first single launch!
KYE: Yeaaaah it was so good!
Sampa: Yeah, I was just watching on Instagram like I wish I was there. That was so dope.
KYE: Ahhh it was so crazy good, it was such a moment, and you know I think all the cancellations and stuff kind of worked in my favour because by the time I got up there I was like no nerves, I've been waiting to do this. It just like, I don't know, exploded - just this feeling of like ahhhhh the ultimate release.
Sampa: You and your band, that's not the first-time you guys have played together on stage, is it?
KYE: No, they’ve been my band for a couple years now, like a good few years - when I was kind of first starting to work on the project and first starting to write music, they jumped on really, really early before anything was kind of happening. So, it's super exciting for them cause they're like; yeah, we’ve kind of been in this for years without having any real timeline of when we would start doing this thing. So, for them it's just like yes! We’re finally doing this.
Sampa: How did you feel right before the show?
KYE: I don’t know, I just had this feeling of being super grateful that it was actually happening. Cause all the other states were kind of going into a lockdown and we were told that we had extra tickets that we were able to sell, and then those extra tickets sold out. So, it was this crazy feeling that everything was coming together at the right time and like… this is really happening.
Sampa: That’s cool. You looked really comfortable from the videos I was seeing. You were jumping with the crowd, you had your little fit going on (KYE laughs) – it just looked so beautiful and then for it to be your first sort of real, big single launch and to have it happen where you’re most comfortable, despite all the frights that happened beforehand, it looked really good. I’m proud of youuuu.
KYE: (Laughs) ahhh it was so good; it was such a moment.
Sampa: So, I guess we gotta talk about Gold, how do you feel?
KYE: Oh man, that song, since its conception, has been the song I’ve been most excited about in my whole career. I remember the day that I started writing it - it was actually a day heaps like this one. The sun was real glowy and had those sunset vibes. But yeah, I was hanging out with my boyfriend at the time, and we were in lock down, but I just said, “isn’t it so nice to get days like this, where it's so sunny, so beautiful and we just get to be together and spend time together”. And so, cycling through and listening to the beats that (18YOMAN) sent over - the way that that loop hit me in the moment of being in the sun and being in love – it all just hit me.
Sampa: How did the title come to you, was ‘Gold’ like because of the sun and because of the situation?
KYE: Yeah so, the first lyrics were how’d you get so golden, that's the first thing that I wrote down. The song was actually initially called golden - like I remember I went through the lyrics and the song was called golden and I changed it to Gold after I wrote the chorus. But yeah, it's kind of crazy getting to put the song out and then hear that people feel the way that I felt when I wrote it, because it's like ahhh – we did capture feeling.
Sampa: That’s always the best, to see people’s reactions to the song.
KYE: Yeah exactly!
But how’s it been with you? You obviously had The Return and that was such a huge album for you, and then, you know, to jump onto a track like this – which is pretty pop, what was that like?
Sampa: I never really kind of stick to one thing or one sound. I feel like when I hear a song and if either the lyrics or the sound resonate with me – my brain doesn’t go like “okay now we’re about to do pop” and then gets me ready for that. My brain just goes to; “this is nice, this is dope, okay there’s that beat, I’m going to talk to that beat”. So, when I first got it, I feel like I was also working on some experimental stuff around that time. This was when I was working on my EP which evolved into an album. But I was messing with different sounds and then your song came up and it was just so beautiful. So of course, I was like, okay! Lemme just jump on this then (KYE laughs). It was one of those things that was automatic, it wasn’t a lot to think about. You know, the topic, what you were going for, was just so clear and concise. It sounded so beautiful and then also, I know the person who is singing it, so I know where it came from. Like I know the heart of the song.
I do realise that it was a different genre but there was nothing hectic about it that made me feel like it would be hard to approach this. It was so clear what you were talking about, and it was clear the feeling you wanted the listener to have. From then on, I was like… okay this is the vibe – it was really bouncy for me and that’s straight up how I translated what I first heard and what went straight into the song.
So, yeah it was such a fun way for me to approach music as well – Hip Hop can get so boring sometimes (both laugh) because sometimes you just want to vibe with the song or sing. I loved how you guys challenged me, where you asked me to sing with you… and I was like why would I do that (laughs).
KYE: (Laughs) Yeah! The second verse.
Sampa: Yeah, I was like why am I doing this… You’re singing it and you’re singing it really well (KYE laughs). But I love that, it became this thing where it’s not just me putting my verse on it - we’re both weaving pieces of us in this song. It just sounds so beautiful KYE. So, so beautiful and I think it represents you so well. I’m so glad that I was on it and I’m so glad you released it and you were able to share this part of yourself.
KYE: It’s been crazy. Even that part that I was singing on, ‘cause you had sent me your verse, and then I ended up going to see Vin (18YOMAN) and I just said like “Sampa has to sing on the second verse”. And he was like “yeah it’s gotta be a duet moment, where she like sings the verse”…
Sampa: (Laughs) The confidence in me! But it was dope because I loved that suggestion. And then once we were in the studio it made sense. It wasn’t like these guys are asking me to take it to pop world and sing (KYE laughs). It was natural and it was cool, I really appreciated that.
KYE: But that’s the beauty of the song right – the process is so natural and that’s how it sounds. Like the song is so easy going and so natural feeling.
Sampa: I mean if my mum is dancing to it then (gives a thumbs up) it’s a gold star. Mwanje was playing it one time in the kitchen and my mum was like (nodding head) yea we got her.
Sampa: Yeah man, dope. So, you did your single, you released the lyric video for Gold as well, which looked really beautiful. What are the plans now – what are the next steps?
KYE: What’s next is rolling out this EP, which is gonna be crazy. I’m really, really excited just because the EP is a lot like Gold - in the sense that there is no distinct, one genre that I’ve done. It’s just like all the pieces of me coming together onto one body of work. I’m really excited for people to hear me do my pop thing and like hear me do my RnB thing… so yeah that’s what’s next for me.
Sampa: I think I’ve heard like a couple of other songs on this EP, so I resonate with the fact that you are showing these different elements and genres, which is something that I’m doing as well. But that’s dope to show all these different sides to you and your song writing skills.
KYE: Awww (laughs)
Sampa: I like that you were able to come off the bat and show that you’re a multi-talented artist. You know, show that I’m able to sing this way, to express myself through this genre and this genre and be like I’m good at song writing and able to incorporate / collaborate with different people. Like… the kids going to be all riggghhtt.
You’re amazing and even just performing with you live and seeing your musicianship to me was just like, I have to have this person on my team. Like this person has to be with me when I translate my music live because they know what they’re doing, and they know how to take music / audio and translate it live. Which is what I love about you. It’s like okay sing it this way… we’re doing harmonies, she’s on her Mariah, like mmm (both laugh).
KYE: I miss that! So, how was it being home and being able to create a whole other project from home? Cause that’s a whole different thing, you know what I mean (Sampa nods). Because creating out here (Australia) it’s like yeah cool, we get to be creative and work with so many amazing people but like working with amazing talent from home and being inspired – you know what’s that been like?
Sampa: It’s been a total 360 for me. Like I've never felt so whole because everything before was searching and longing, with feeding this place. Obviously, I wasn't raised here (Australia) as well, so it's like OK I'm in this space that I’m not quite familiar with but I'm representing something that's bigger than myself. I've never stayed in Zambia for over a year and just completing music and a whole project there, you feel more whole. 'Cause there's nothing you’re really kind of searching for, like everything you were searching for is now right in front of you and then for us to explore sounds that I listened to as a kid, has been peak.
'Cause you know it's just you're trying to replicate things that you heard when you were younger. I think at times we did get that feel or when you’re at home with people who make that music it’s just spot on - right there. And I worked with Mag44, my producer from Zambia, and they were discussing how we fuse all these different sounds together and made a sort of a hybrid sound. It's like this is soooo dope and also being excited about doing things at home has been amazing man, it's been amazing. And It's almost done! So, I'm like can I show you what I've been doing (laughs).
KYE: Yeah, remember those shows that we did for you back home and how incredible that experience was. We've been to so many places but there's nothing like that tour - there's nothing like those shows that we did back home because they were just so…
Sampa: Something else man.
KYE: Yeah, you know you just didn't have to explain it – it was this feeling like I don’t have to explain what I'm making, I don't have to explain my sound to you because this sound is from here.
KYE: And it's so cool being in a room with an audience that just automatically goes “Oh yeah I get that”.
Sampa: (laughs) I get that! And this is where we go AYYY ‘cause this is what we do, you know, there's nothing to explain there you just feel like you belong. You were definitely a part of a very important part of my life because those were my first shows professionally as Sampa, in my country - in South Africa and Swaziland. So, going back and walking on stage in Zambia like wheeew yeah (laughs), let’s hope that everybody vibes to it and truly they did. Like you said, there was nothing to explain because you know it was your peoples. These people understand what you’re talking about and where you’re coming from. So, yeah, those were some of the best moments in my life man.
KYE: Ahhh it was crazy man. How does it feel stepping back into Australia – because you would have left around the time the Black Lives Matter Movement really picked up here.
KYE: So, you would’ve gone home around that time. It’s been, sort of, an interesting season I think for Australia and an interesting cultural shift. So, how does it feel stepping back into that space after having been home for such a long time?
Sampa: Yuuuup, I think I left right after the protests that we had, the rally - that huge one where I even did a speech at … But yeah man you step into a place which is Australia, and you see people catching up to topics of racism at a rate that is soooo slow. And you face all these obstacles in the industry, and you get to a point where you’re like I'm exhausted… this is peak. I'm so, so tired.
And then going back home and for a year just having the headspace of not thinking about certain things. Like oh I can't say that because it will define my race, or I'll be an ambassador… like that is crazy to think that young black artists go through that daily. Years on end, where there's no free thought of just doing an action for you… you have to be an ambassador for a whole race of people. It's crazy.
I think before we left, we established that therapy is a huge thing, especially for us in the music industry. 'Cause the fight is ongoing and I don't think that it will end anytime soon. It will get better; we will have new approaches, but I think one thing that stood out before I left was how depleted I was in this fight. And how exhausting it was to keep going or to keep being excited about it or reel any of the younglings in. It's just like bruh, I really want to be excited for your journey, but we are all stepping into bullshit right now (laughs). And I don't know how to keep you excited, as a young black person coming into this industry.
One of the things we established when we released Times Up with Crown was, we need to really talk about mental health because if you are walking into an industry that has a whole blueprint set, which was for people before you and then people before them… it is not as easy as being like yeah, we gotta fight it. It’s endurance and one of the ways we can protect ourselves is through protecting our mental health. But anyway, I left here (Australia), and I went back home, and it was just like a lot of the armour that I needed to put on in the industry, became useless. I'm there and I'm like why am I thinking about this, I don't need to think about this anymore - which was different. Because when you’re doing something for years on end, you become so used to it. It took a lot of the people who I was working with, to just slowly remove the armour and be like you don’t need it here. You don't have to explain any of this, we know how that feels. You kind of get a perspective of oh yeah, what we were going through there is actually not what we deserve as black artists. It’s not a space that's conducive for us to grow. So, you do that for a year and a half, and you come back… and you know you see what was performative, especially after those black squares situation. Like we've been talking about this for years. So, if you're gonna come back and be like yeah we want to change this! And then not do anything… I think it's not a question of asking you anymore. Like that wave died with how global George Floyd’s death and the effect of that was. I think we all collectively said, yeah, we not about to teach people anymore. Our children and our children's children can't be still talking about the same things. We're not about to teach people anymore. You’re educated enough to go look up some stuff, we're not about to be educators. And that's been an approach I've been talking about foreverrrr and it was met with a lot of friction. So, to then come back and hear that, that’s been the approach that people are taking, to me, it’s like… (claps) let's go!
'Cause I've been talking about ownership - and it's not about exclusion, it’s more so about the fact that we are obviously different and with that comes owning something that expresses that within our culture. So, I'm happy that this conversation is happening… and I'm excited to see it but with a lot of things… I want it to be backed. Like the idea is there but what are we doing to move it along. So, it's been interesting… but it's also been interesting to see the performance and be like nah bruh let’s leave the performances to the stage (both laugh). Because that's not what we're doing anymore.
But yeah, how has it been for you to actually be in it?
KYE: For me, I think something that's been super important has been defining what my activism actually is. Because it was that whole thing of watching other people be performative and watching a lot of people feel the need to perform in order to, I guess, look progressive or look as if they are part of the movement. So, I think it was really important for me to create, as an artist, in a way that was like unapologetic and not being boxed into spaces that people thought that I should be in. A really big part of that has been calling myself a Pop artist and being like, yeah this is the space that I create in. In Australia that space is predominantly a white space, but I think for me stepping into that and owning it and claiming my spot has been really, really important. I'm also starting to see young Black artists and Black girls message me and be like oh, you know, I love Pop music and I love making Pop music and I feel so empowered now to go and make music in that space. I didn't even realise how common that feeling was amongst young artists. Many of them also said that they feel like they can only make Hip-Hop or RnB cause that's the space that they are allowed in and I’m like no! You're allowed to make whatever you want to make.
Sampa: Yeah, (nods) that’s so dope.
KYE: So that's been really important. Also, lots of Zimbab girls around Australia have left me the most amazing Instagram messages, being like it's so cool seeing another Zimbabwean girl out hear making art.
KYE: So, it's been cool man. Some of them have gone onto making some really cool podcasts that I love listening to, some of them are making music… it's just been cool, and I think that for me has been the biggest thing. It's been a way that I can be active in this conversation, which serves a purpose.
Sampa: 100%. And I was gonna ask you that, because you do say that you’re a Pop artist so unapologetically and it's a space that’s predominantly white. So, for you to step in there and be like hey, I'm also Zimbabwean by the way (laughs)… by doing that in itself is powerful activism. Because like you said, we don't even feel like we’re allowed in those spaces but to see you there is like approval in a sense, especiallyfor people who are like you. So, I'm so proud of you… so, so proud.
KYE: You know it's been hard; it’s been a hard push. I mean there's still spaces that won't exactly allow me to just be a Pop star. But I can see them changing you know, when I'm reading articles about the song and about the music I put out, more are saying Pop artist – Zimbabwean born, Melbourne based, London raised, KYE - which has been amazing… like that's a game changer.
Sampa: Congratulations KYE.
KYE: Thank you, it feels good there's still so much work to be done but it at least feels like I’ve been able to write my own narrative it that way, which is really important. Other than that, there is still so much room for growth. But yeah, it's an interesting time and with any cultural shift there's always push back. There are always things that you still have to push against, so you know, it's not perfect, it's not like everything has been fixed since BLM - there's still so much work to do.
Sampa: 100% but it's a marathon you know, not a sprint. And I feel like we are slowly but surely positioning ourselves well and it's just about finding those catalysts that accelerate it without it being to our detriment. So, we're on the right path but it's also a marathon for sure.
KYE: Exactly… exactly.
Sampa: and so that’s it folks (both laugh).