Genre Deep Dive: Amapiano

Amapiano is a genre of electronic dance music that sprouted in South Africa in the early 2010’s. Originating primarily in the townships of Gauteng, the province that includes Johannesburg and Pretoria. The genre’s roots can be traced to a combination of musical influences and cultural contexts. Amapiano is a fusion of various musical influences, including house music, jazz, kwaito, and traditional South African sounds. The genre incorporates elements of these styles to create a unique and eclectic sound. The name “Amapiano” is derived from the Zulu and Xhosa word “piano,” reflecting the genre’s emphasis on piano melodies. The piano became a central and defining element of Amapiano music, distinguishing it from other electronic dance music genres.

It’s simple: Piano driven sound + danceable rhythms + Diverse subgenres = Amapiano

South Africa’s rich history of house music has deeply influenced this genre. Amapiano incorporates elements of other South African genres, such as kwaito and gqom. Kwaito, known for its use of African rhythms and melodies, and gqom, characterized by its minimalistic and percussive nature, contributed to the diverse sonic palette of Amapiano.

Amapiano’s origin is closely tied to township culture, where it became a popular genre at local events, parties, and gatherings. The music reflects the experiences and rhythms of urban life in South African townships, resonating with the youth and capturing the energy of the streets.

The rise of digital production tools and online platforms played a role in the genesis of Amapiano. Artists and producers in the townships were able to create and share music independently, leading to the genre’s organic growth. Social media and streaming platforms facilitated the dissemination of Amapiano tracks. Amapiano gained international recognition as artists and tracks started to reach global audiences. The genre’s distinct sound and danceable rhythms contributed to its appeal beyond South Africa, leading to collaborations with international artists and incorporation into global music scenes.

Amapiano is closely linked to dance culture, with its lively and infectious beats inspiring various dance moves. The genre’s popularity on dance floors has contributed to its widespread acceptance and integration into mainstream music culture. I mean let’s look at Tylas “Water” or Uncle Waffles. It’s not just the music, it’s the pairing of both music and dance that makes Amapiano so special. This genre’s connection with dance has gained widespread popularity both within the country and internationally and has become a dominant force in the South African music scene. This genre’s global impact continues to grow, contributing to the diversity of the electronic dance music landscape.

Amapiano has seen the rise of several prominent artists who have played pivotal roles in shaping the genre and contributing to its popularity both within South Africa and internationally. Here are just a handful, but I encourage everyone to explore this genre deeper because there’s so much talent within this genre.

Kabza De Small: Known as the “King of Amapiano,” Kabza De Small is one of the most influential figures in the genre. He is renowned for his production skills and has released numerous hit tracks and albums, collaborating with other Amapiano artists and producers.

DJ Maphorisa: A highly respected DJ and producer, DJ Maphorisa has been instrumental in popularizing Amapiano both locally and internationally. He has collaborated with Kabza De Small and other artists, producing chart-topping Amapiano hits and albums.

Vigro Deep: Vigro Deep is a young and talented producer known for his energetic and melodic Amapiano tracks. He has gained widespread acclaim for his solo releases as well as his collaborations with other artists.

Focalistic: Focalistic has emerged as one of the leading voices in the Amapiano scene, known for his unique flow and lyrical prowess. He has released several successful singles and EPs, garnering praise for his contribution to the genre.

Sha Sha: Sha Sha is a Zimbabwean singer and songwriter who has made a significant impact on the Amapiano scene. She gained international recognition after winning the BET Award for Best New International Act in 2020 and has collaborated with top Amapiano artists.

De Mthuda: De Mthuda is a talented producer known for his soulful and atmospheric Amapiano tracks. He has released numerous solo projects and collaborations, establishing himself as a key figure in the genre.

Kwiish SA: Kwiish SA is known for his catchy melodies and infectious beats, which have contributed to the popularity of his Amapiano tracks. He has released several successful singles and albums, earning acclaim from fans and critics alike.

These are just a few of the major Amapiano artists who have made significant contributions to the genre’s growth and success. There are many other talented producers, DJs, and vocalists within the Amapiano scene who continue to push the boundaries of the genre and keep it evolving.

A personal favorite of mine is Uncle Waffles. She is currently at the forefront of this genre, holding the title “Princess of Amapiano”. She is a Swazi-born DJ and record producer based in South Africa. In the past couple years she has become an international superstar, sprinkling the world with her vibrant energy, infectious rhythms, and electric dance moves. Her official debut single “Tanzania” and the hit EP “Red Dragon” released in 2022 quickly popularized globally. In 2023 she became the first amapiano act to perform at Coachella. She is only 23 but she has solidified her position as one of the genre’s most exciting talents, and I am so excited to see her continue to grow.

Amapiano originated as a result of the creative fusion of various South African music styles, digital production tools, and the cultural context of urban townships. Its evolution reflects the dynamic nature of the South African music scene and its ability to produce innovative and globally influential genres. Amapiano represents more than just a musical genre; it embodies a sense of community and celebration, reflecting the vibrancy and diversity of its creators and listeners. As it continues to evolve and gain international recognition, Amapiano stands as a testament to the power of music to unite people across boundaries and create joy and excitement on dance floors around the world.

By Ferg

All Photos by Uncle Smiith (@Unclesmiith on Instagram)


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