posted by Staff
3 weeks ago

When a genre is born and has the power to connect people from a vastly unequal society, it's only a matter of time before the world gathers to embrace the scene. In the following article, we focus on Amapiano, a genre that rose to prominence in the mid-2010s in Katlehong, Soweto, Alexandra, and Vosloorus - townships of Johannesburg in South Africa. It's a combination of house music, jazz, and lounge with the log drum serving as one of the core elements defining the genre. Now Amapiano is erupting on the global dance scene, so we decided to shed light on its magnificent story.  

What is Amapiano

The word Amapiano literally means "the pianos" in Zulu (an official South African language), and it sits right below house music as one of its sub-genres. Amapiano fuses lounge, deep house, and jazz embellishments through an array of chord structures and glossy synths. The bright piano riffs paired with the allure of lush percussion compel listeners to move and from South Africa, the genre expanded towards the rest of the continent. It also reached China, The United States, and even the UK where the first Amapiano festival called 'Ama Fest' was held in 2021.

Like every next big thing, Amapiano used the power of the internet, and singles were distributed through free file-hosting websites as the music was going back and forth in WhatsApp groups which got a lot of DJs their first gigs. A couple of years later, the Spotify Amapiano playlists increased its follower count by 160% and platforms such as too TikTok noticed how global the genre had become. Viral dance challenges like Ba Straata, Bujwa, and Woza La generated billions of views. Here are just a handful of tracks that were part of the movement:

Banyana – DJ Maphorisa & Tyler ICU

Siyathandana – Cassper Nyovest

Yaba Baluku – DJ Tarico

The Origins of Amapiano

Before Amapiano, a genre called Kwaito was born in the mid '90s just as former president Nelson Mandela was elected. After Kwaito was adopted by the nation, the state of South African music was never the same. Towards the late 2000s, the influence of Kwaito began to wither away as international house music became more popular. After that, Kwaito producers decided that their music would be played more often if other house DJs included it in their sets. So they sped up the tempo.

The relics of Kwaito music were deeply buried within Amapiano, and that's part of the reason why it had such a nostalgic allure and captured the heart of the nation. Amapiano used sounds and samples already familiar to South Africans - its tempo is slower than house music, and it contains vocals, deep bass lines, and loop samples. Amapiano vocalists and producers often adopt Kwaito's rhythm and lyrics and say that the former style is the foundation of Amapiano. Initially, it blossomed in the streets of Katlehong, the township east of Johannesburg. One of the most important elements imported into the music is the log drum - a raw bassline with a heavy kick drum effect. The percussion instrument vibrates in all sizes and shapes. It was forbidden on the slave plantations because its distinctive notes were used for long-distance communication. This makes the Amapiano not only a genre of unity but also freedom and self-expression.

Top AmapianoArtists

Many deserve to be mentioned, but these five artists are a good place to start:

Kabza De Small

The Pretoria-born Kabza is labeled as one of the pioneers of Amapiano, but he started his journey by listening to Kwaito and old-school Afropop artists like Chicco Twala. At the age of 10, he was drawn to music production, and eventually, he turned his attention to DJing when he was 17. Kabza's 2018 LP Umshove set eyes on him internationally, and he doesn't always ride solo as he is part of the Amapiano group Scorpion Kings alongside DJ Maphorisa.

DJ Maphorisa

Every song he touches turns into gold. DJ Maphorisa (aka Themba Sonnyboy Sekowe) grew up around gospel music thanks to his mother, who ran a ministry. In his teenage years, he became a local DJ and the massive break didn't come to him until 2016 when he worked on Drake's track "One Dance." His influences are fluid, but his Amapiano interest sparked when he wanted to understand why this genre gets into people's lives as he was looking for something that originated from South Africa. "When I started paying close attention to Amapiano, I knew that this was a sound that would take South Africa to the world. There's a lot that you can do with Amapiano — you can make it soulful, funky, dusty, and hard or jazz it up," he says.

DBN Gogo

Whenever she goes onto the stage, she leaves people begging for more. Mandisa Radebe's moniker comes from a girl talk when in the middle of the conversation one of her friends said that "where she’s from, they call the reverse missionary iDeben Gogo." Gogo always had an ear for what good music is as she has been playing piano since she was a child. She grew up listening to a lot of house and different types of South African music. Her DJ career was quite unexpected, and she learned how to do it during gigs. Well, Gogo does it well as she completely takes over the decks with elegance when she steps behind them. 

Uncle Waffles

Going viral in 2021 with a tweet she posted showing off her DJ skills and dance moves has unlocked some of her powers to the world, and now she has an EP, sold-out shows, and a huge fan base. Lungelihle Zwane is the Amapiano princess, but her DJ path started in her home countryside of Swaziland. There, she hosted a TV show and used the equipment to learn the technical side of music. At first, she didn't aim for Amapiano, but she couldn't stay away from it for too long - "Amapiano is uniquely from South African youth culture that is rooted in collectivism, so everybody is welcome as long as they bring a good vibe."

JazziDisciples

The duo is also known as Bafana Ba Number. Josiah The Disciple and Mr Jazzi are from the Joburg township of Alexandra and met in high school where they started making music together. What put them on the map was their 2018 single - "Long Lasting," and they are proud to say this was the first Amapiano music video ever. They shot it at an Amapiano party called 'House of Party' and what they didn't know back then is that every radio in the country would play their track daily. After three years side by side and a couple of albums, Josiah decided he wanted to pay attention to his solo career, but the fans are hoping to see them behind the deck together.

The Biggest Labels In the Amapiano Genre

And, of course, we want to mention some of the labels that are home to Amapiano music:

  • Blaqboy Music
  • Black is Brown Entertainment
  • Piano Hub
  • Kamo Mphela Entertainment
  • Major League Music

If you want to learn more about Amapiano from the very people who are part of the culture, watch this informative documentary from 2020 - Shaya.