Joe Samba

Reggae’s Billboard-charting rising star announces first album since changing his name from Joe Sambo to Joe Samba over concerns of racial insensitivity

New single “Losing It” featuring The Elovaters to drop April 1, 2022, on LAW Records

In an increasingly dour and divided world too often deprived of much-needed positive vibes, Billboard Chart-topper and emerging East Coast reggae artist  Joe Samba has been earning a solid reputation as the new purveyor of the perfect-positive reggae hook, joyfully merging his signature optimistic energy with unifying messages delivered via catchy choruses and infectiously danceable grooves.

The newest manifestation of that creative spirit arrives in the form of Far From Forever (to be released June 17, 2022, on LAW Records), an album that seamlessly melds Joe Samba’s eclectic brand of upbeat reggae rocks with an undeniable soul/funk infused pop-appeal, while leveling his dynamic vocal range and party-primed guitar chops against an honest and, at times, raw lyricism to demonstrate a timely and matured songwriting craft.

Showcasing a creative competence across various genres including reggae, ska, rock, alternative, pop, and more, the tracks on Far From Forever range from all-out party tunes to tell-all ballads touching on serious subject matter like depression. With half of the album being written before the pandemic and the other half written during, the project reads like a living archive of the artist’s growth through the ups and downs of our uncertain times.

“The album pretty much describes all the different thoughts and emotions I was having from late 2019 when things started getting weird through all of 2020,” says Joe. “While having reggae undertones, the songs on the album are, individually, very different from each other …but each one tells its own story in a very unique way, either musically, lyrically, or melodically and contributes to the overall message behind the project, which is this idea that there are so many different versions of myself and so many different versions of how I express myself  in being authentically and organically me.”

The first single to be released in support of the album “Losing It” featuring The Elovaters (slated to drop April 1, 2022, on LAW Records) provides one of the more light-hearted glimpses of that time and is a collaboration with Jackson Wetherbee from reggae-rock band The Elovaters.

“The Elovaters are from Marshfield, Massachusetts, not too far from where I grew up,” says Joe. “I’ve known Jackson for a long time, and we’ve been meaning to get a track done together forever. It’s one of the more upbeat, fun songs on the album; it’s got a lot of horns in it and it’s just a feel-good groove tune.  I used to be a foreman for a landscaping company and this song is about the grind in those days, being in a gross smelly truck, covered in dirt and sweat and  just daydreaming about making it in music and being on billboards or driving fast cars …and then catching myself and thinking ‘I’m losing it, man!’”

Interestingly, the single is Joe’s first release since officially changing his name earlier this year from Joe Sambo to Joe Samba on the grounds that he now feels the former moniker fails to live up to the values and the positive messaging at the heart of his music — a decision that came after a fan brought it to Joe’s attention that the (now obscure) term ‘Sambo’ is, in fact, a racially insensitive relic of the Jim Crow-era and a word that carries a dark history in America as a derogatory label for persons of African descent. 

Joe Samba — real name Joe Sambataro — released a statement on his social media channels in January announcing the name change and saying that, while the name ‘Joe Sambo’ had originated as a multi-generational family nickname that evolved as a diminutive of his full last name Sambataro, he has since “been lucky enough to be able to travel, and share my love of music with people all over the country. And in my travels, I became aware that the word “Sambo” means something very different to a large percentage of our country. A meaning I was unaware of.”

Growing up in a small New Hampshire town, Joe Sambataro’s family was always known as “The Sambos”.  An immigrant from Italy, Joe’s grandfather Robert Sambataro first earned the nickname from his fellow firefighters in Lawrence, MA., and, in turn, Joe’s father was known as Jim Sambo. Likewise, starting in Little League, Joe was nicknamed “Joe Sambo”, and that name stuck with him throughout his school years, and eventually into his music career.

In 2019,  Joe burst onto the scene when the independent release of his debut album The Wrong Impression charted #1 on Billboard’s Reggae Chart. The album garnered support across the country and earned Joe the New England Male Artist of the Year award. He signed to LAW Records in 2021 releasing a string of successful singles, followed by the EP Crazy Little Village and soon embarked on an extensive national tour schedule. It was only when Joe started traveling throughout the US as a working musician that he learned the word “Sambo” has a dark and hurtful significance to much of the population of the US. The moment of revelation came at a recent live show in Georgia. After the show, an African American fan approached Joe at his merch table and said, “I really love your music and positive message, and I would like to support you, but I just can’t justify buying a shirt with that word on it.” Genuinely confused, Joe asked that man to explain what he meant. The new knowledge shared by his fan that night struck him deeply, and he knew he could no longer continue with being called by his childhood nickname.

“After educating myself more about the word and its historical context,” said Sambataro, “I made the decision that I had to change my name as it’s the right thing to do. The original meaning of the word and its hurtful significance to so many is so far from my musical message of love, inclusion, and positivity and something I don’t ever want to be confused in association with”

With the national reckoning over the Black Lives Matter movement, America has been forced to open its eyes to the realities of injustice, inequality, and bias black women and men face every day. With new societal blindspots being exposed, many artists have been reconsidering the implications behind their names in the last couple of years. Other musicians who have changed their monikers as a result of the music industry’s new self-reflexivity concerning racist terminology and imagery have included: Dixie Chicks, Lady Antebellum, Black Madonna, The Slaves, Viet Cong, and others. Some made those changes more begrudgingly than others and, in most cases, the decision to change was initiated by external criticism from fans or activists who called the artists out. 

In contrast to those examples, the “Joe Sambo” moniker had not yet become a point of public controversy or widespread criticism from his fanbase, yet the artist felt it was an important matter of conviction to initiate the name change by his own volition to avoid causing any potential confusion, pain or frustration in the future. He also felt an obligation to address the topic head-on with his fanbase, believing we all have a personal responsibility to try and affect positive change in any way we can.

Said Joe Samba, “Where I grew up, it was a privilege not knowing the historical connotation of this word, and I feel it’s important to publicly acknowledge what it means for others. I hope people from all walks of life, searching for clarity and happiness, can listen to my songs and relate to them. And I devote my talent to bringing hope and motivation to everyone who may be or feel disenfranchised.”

Given Joe’s positive message of peace, love, and inclusivity, it was an easy choice to change his name to something more representative of himself and his family, deciding on a simple shortening of Joe Sambataro to “Joe Samba”. But despite the name changing, Joe Samba assured his fans that his music and the unifying spirit it shares isn’t going anywhere:

“For all my fans, my music will be the same,” says Joe, “I will still write from the same heart that’s beating in me, and I will promise to keep an open heart to all walks of life who listen.”

Far From Forever proves a powerful testament to that conviction. The album features contributions from a talented roster of musicians consisting of Samba’s go-to collaborators, including Quincy Medaglia and Dave Petti of The Quins, Mark King on bass, Greg Nectow on keyboards, Alex Brander on drums, Andrew Riordan on saxophone, and Billy Kottage on trombone.  All tracks were recorded at New Hampshire’s Revelry Studios and were engineered by Matt Blanchette, and mastered by Jay Frigoletto of Metronome Studios.

See Joe Samba’s full statement about his name change here.

What they’re saying about Joe Sambo:

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