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09: Amapiano

Photo by Sfundo Majozi

“Amapiano…The Modern, Hybrid Sound Of The Zulu...”

The history of South Africa is a comprehensive one. From conflict with the British empire to institutional oppressive racism, their entire nation has shown that nothing can completely suppress them. This rings true in particular for the Zulus, representing South Africa’s largest ethnic group not only in the country but across the southern regions of the continent. Some have been forced to migrate and settle elsewhere over the years, even being forced to give up their South African nationality in many cases. But despite the tumultuous circumstances faced, they remain some of the most positive,compassionate people in the world. Their spiritual beliefs are strong and it allows them to move forward on their correct path. Behaving with ubuntu, a Bantu term for humanity, or showing respect and generosity towards others, enhances one's moral standing in the community, one's isithunzi or prestige.

With the art of music and dance embedded into the very essence of African culture, it was an inevitably that their rich variety of sounds and unique artistic expressions formed a genre in the modern age. From the soul of the underprivileged townships of South Africa, “Amapiano” was a strange offshoot of the soulful, deep sound that the previous “Kwato” had paved; a hybrid of deep house, jazz and lounge music characterized by synths, airy pads, and wide percussive basslines. There has been constant debate around its origin, with multiple accounts of the musical styles in townships like Soweto, Alexandria, and Katlehong. What we do know is that the term “Amapiano” means “many pianos” in the Zulu language. This was initially a mocking of the sound, describing the squeaky pianos and long organs used in the instrumentals. But just like its founders and creators’ heritage, it refused to be suppressed, winning over their crowds as the youth in the shanti towns felt and propelled its true essence:

Feel-good music for an oppressed people allowing them to dream of a better future”

Commercialised in 2016, the release of “House Afrika Volume 1” was the start of something special. This infectious sound would go viral during the COVID-19 pandemic. The quarantine protocols set by world governments lead to fans and followers streaming music increasingly. Amapiano’s calm and soothing sounds reached more international audiences. Apropos, helped others get through the tribulations of lockdown, quarantine, and other challenges, by reflecting on the nature of average African; strong, compassionate, and generous.

“You associate it with nice times, a nice lifestyle. It makes you forget your pain”

With the explosion of social media platforms like Tik Tok, the genre received even more attention. Its rhythmic components made it easy to dance to, which is a hit for a generation eager to perform online at every opportunity. This was an exchange of culture, bringing a positive energy to those that needed it during a challenging period in the world’s history.

The self-proclaimed king of Amapiano, Kabza De Small, has split the sound into two categories: “dust” and “sweet”. “Dust” mainly consists of the more hardcore drum patterns and percussions of Kwaito, whilst “Sweet” falls into the more soulful, jazzy sounds. He is one of many exceptional artists helping the genre grow to new heights.

Kabza De Small

The title of rulership over Amapiano is heavily contested, with acts such as Young Stunna, Busta 929 and Major League DJz vying for the recognition of top dog. Averaging millions of streams on Spotify and other platforms, these are some of the juggernauts of the game. Collaborations with Afro-Beat heavyweights Wizkid and Burna Boy have established a prosperous and blossoming relationship with the West African style.

But it’s not just the men that are pushing the sound to the forefront. Women are doing the genre the same justice, as the likes of Kamo Mphela, Boohle and Sha Sha have demonstrated. Sha Sha received a BET award for “Best International Artist” in 2020, being the first Amapiano artist to be recognised by a committee outside of Africa.

Sha Sha's Victory At The BET Awards

“Unlike house music, women are rightly credited for their work”

This award was the arrival of Amapiano as a new force within the industry, however it was not without controversy. Avid listeners didn’t respect the fact that someone from a neighbouring nation was the first to receive an award for a cherished South African commodity. This speaks to the Amapiano community’s pride and influence, demanding that their culture gets the representation it deserves. The fans determine who succeeds and who does not. There are no gatekeepers., which brings us to the viral star Uncle Waffles.

Uncle Waffles, real name Lungelihle Zwane, shot to fame through the twitter video above.  She gained acclaim for her high energy sets and unique way of engaging her audience at her shows. She is a star. However, as said above, she still has not completely won over fans of the genre. Some contest the moniker of “Princess of Amapiano” bestowed upon her. Although constantly documenting her improvement on the decks, her recent tour in the UK left much to be desired. She received negative criticism from a presenter in the UK that attended her show in Birmingham, whilst others trolled her sets, calling her performances mediocre.

The community both in South Africa and elsewhere were split, with some claiming that the opinions of those in other countries didn’t matter or count towards the culture. I believe that everyone can have thoughts about an artist or release, no one person’s views are above anyone else’s. This being said, the wellbeing of Amapiano will always be the number one priority for the artists and fans that love it. Friendly competition and constructive criticism are always healthy.

 

Amapiano has proven to be a productive way for the poverty-stricken community to make their way in the world. South Africa’s economy is a mixed economy. They have state capitalism yet enact fundamentally socialist policies. The country suffers from high rates of unemployment and poverty. It also is in the upper echelon of income inequality.

Income Inequality Statistics 1900 - 2020

The producers of Amapiano are aware of this discrepancy. The Scorpion Kings, Kabza De Small and DJ Maphorisa, together with Tyler ICU and Nicole Elocin, produced an Amapiano remix of “Belle Ciao”, a soundtrack of the hit TV series “Money Heist”.

Atresmedia Vancouver Media's "Money Heist" television series

They are all aware of the class system and gap between rich and poor, working hard to get Amapiano to a height where the impact on the economy can be its greatest, and in turn aiding the lower class’s increase to their income. Events, managing, social media and artistry; the genre has provided a path for the township youth to find success.

“We need the youth of South Africa to know a South African genre can be played on the world stage”  

With a deep history and relationship to rhythm, dance, music and a general passion for life, there is a deep talent pool that yearns to be independent and immovable in the face of adversity from outside forces. The innovation and courage displayed by the youth will always mean the disenfranchised stand a chance to make something out of nothing. Strong, compassionate, stylish, and perseverant. It is part of the story of Africa, and it will continue to reign true in the world of Amapiano, South Africa and its people.

Written by: @Arriv3r

Edited by: @Whosaria

Insight.