Writing & illustration by Claire Wastell // Claire Wastell reflects on the transformative experience of going to a gig alone, and the powerful music of African-Australian hip-hop/soul/experimental artist Sampa the Great.
With my loose pants, comfy boots and winged eyeliner I rocked up to the Night Cat alone at 3pm on a Sunday. I had almost not made it. The idea of going to a gig alone – and in the middle of the day – slightly terrified me. A friend and I had tried to free up our work schedules so we could both go, but this hadn’t turned out the way we planned. So there I was. My first gig alone. I decided I was going to need my badass culottes for the confidence to not turn and run away.
I left the brightness outside and entered into a sea of darkness and intimidating figures. I felt suddenly in a realm where day no longer existed and time felt irrelevant. I decided to again embrace my fact I was alone and out of my depth (everyone around me seemed to know their way) and make my way to the front of the stage. Majestic bold flowers and vines covered the instruments on the stage where Sampa the Great would soon emerge. I felt empowered by the yellow and red colours and their daring brightness. They stood out, seeming out of place in this scene yet adding a kind of wonderful beauty to the grottiness of the spilt drinks and sticky floors. I began to feel more comfortable being alone. The stage resembled a place of a safety, security and acceptance. The flowers and vines wrapping up the walls and poles beckoned: ‘come as you are – we don’t give a damn’.
After awkwardly standing and waiting for a while, occasionally checking my phone to pass the time and appear like I was meeting someone, Sampa the Great emerged on the stage. From the very first entrance, I was transfixed. Nothing else mattered anymore. She had a presence that could not be ignored. Dressed in white, she glowed like an angel, her smile so contagious I could do nothing except feel pure joy. As she opened her mouth and sang I closed my eyes and smiled in admiration at her vocal ability. But what I loved most was the way she used her words. Never have I been to a concert where I could really feel the genuine love and joy the artist had for what they were doing.
Sampa told us to love ourselves for who we are, to not listen to the voices that say no and be true to who we are. These words felt real for once; not just empty words spoken by a teacher, or my mother, or the head of some successful company. Sampa’s story is inspiring: despite having the odds against her as a new female migrant to Australia she did not let the discrimination of her race, colour, position in society or gender stop her. She did not try to change to make it easier for herself. She stayed true to her values and her passions. This is what created her success – she didn’t try to fit a mould, but stayed different.
I often find myself feeling lost and scared at the thought of being alone. At home, in public or anywhere really. I am an extrovert who thrives off the energy of other people. But I am so glad I experienced this concert solo. It allowed me to be free from worry about what the people I came with were doing, or how they were enjoying the gig. Going solo gave me the opportunity and the space to have a deep and personal experience watching this singer.
When the gig finished, I came out of the dark, shadowy hall to the bustling sounds of Brunswick Street, and couldn’t take the grin off my face. I had experienced something magical and pure, a personal experience that no one else understood. I walked back to my car and drove home feeling calm and at peace, promising myself that in future, I would not hesitate to do things alone. And I urge you to do the same. You and you alone can have a secret experience that is yours to remember, and that no others can quite imagine.
LISTEN: Sampa the Great Soundcloud