Amapiano: The New Wave Of South African House Music That’s Going Global
‘Amapiano to the world!’
The prophetic catchphrase of devout followers of this contemporary South African genre of house music is coming to pass. Right now, amapiano is catching on far beyond its origins in the townships of Joburg and Pretoria. ‘Ama’ is the isiZulu word for the plural of ‘piano’. So, pianos. Lots of them. As reflected in its bilingual name, the genre is a mesh of influences, combining kwaito (a mid-tempo South African house genre) and bacardi (a heavy percussive Pretorian house sub-genre) with jazz-leaning piano melodies. Amapiano songs are often long, meandering journeys, building up to at least one climax, a drop, a beat change, a new melody and sometimes, all of the above.
Amapiano has been gaining popularity throughout South Africa since 2016, but is now seeing a global surge. London’s 2020 Yam Carnival had a tent dedicated to it, and Fat Joe went viral on Twitter for vibing to the genre. The Instagram account danceagram_sa, dedicated to videos of people dancing to South African house (most frequently amapiano) has amassed more than 200k followers. And TikTok’s viral #DakiweChallenge permeated friend groups who wanted to recreate the Matrix-like dance move.
Faithful members of the amapiano community have been key players in its export. There is DJ Maphorisa, a producer (think Wizkid, Drake and Major Lazer) and ambassador for South African house, Kabza de Small (the self-identified ‘King of Amapiano’), Mr JazziQ (formerly of the duo JazziDisciples) and Vigro Deep.
There are also the DJs, often personalities with global followings, who have mastered the combination of mixing and performance. It is not uncommon to see Major League DJz – twin brothers who’ll be headlining Pianochella at London’s O2 Academy Brixton in May 2022 – acrobatically climb onto their booths as they perform, revelling in the crowd energy. TxC is the twin-sister DJ duo whose matching style, performance and dancing have attracted crowds from Lagos to Dar es Salaam and Maputo. Yes, people come to listen, but they also come to watch.
As amapiano crosses borders, it has evolved. Nigerian Afro pop has already co-opted the sound, making it punchier (and yes, shorter, for an audience lacking patience for the mounting beats). That said, purists are keen to maintain its authenticity, because as DJ Maphorisa says: “If you don’t involve us, it’s not amapiano.”
5 amapiano songs to download now:
- Adiwele, Young Stunna ft Kabza de Small
- Blue Skies, Mr JazziQ & JazziDisciples ft Vigro Deep & Rams de Violinist
- Nkao Tempela, Ch’cco ft Mellow & Sleazy
- Superman, DJ Stokie ft Kabza de Small, Masterpiece YVK, Madumane
- Macnose, JazziDisciples
Faridah Folawiyo is a London-born writer and art curator based in Lagos