Amapiano is a South African genre of music that uses piano, drum and synthesizers as its primary instruments. The direct translation of Amapiano to English is simply “piano”. “Ama” is a collective noun, one which was used in this instant to include other elements aside piano that contribute to the unique Amapiano sound, such as jazz, synthesizers and bass lines.
Amapiano borrows its sound from other genres of music to become whole. It gets its tempo from South African deep house and its keys from jazz. More local South African genres such as Kwaito have contributed its baselines and harmonies while di Bacardi donated its drum patterns and percussion. Due to this interwoven network of inspirations, the birth date of the music is not definitive but it is known as the newest genre in the country.
“If you put one hundred guys in a room and you asked them where Amapiano started, you’ll get one hundred answers and some very heated debates…” said Siphiwe Ngwenya, co-founder of Born in Soweto, a homegrown label which backed Amapiano in its early days.
At the start, Amapiano music was originally restricted to just instrumentals but in time it metamorphosed to incorporate vocals. This made each song uniquely memorable, increasing its chances of getting radio airplay. Amapiano is a variation of Electronic Dance Music(EDM) but has its own independent sub-genres like ‘Harvard Amapiano’ and ‘gong gong Amapiano’.
Amapiano is electronic dance music but unlike regular EDM, which is generally uptempo, Amapiano explores the full gamut of emotions. From soulful thoughtful sounds exuding sadness, to mid-tempo pensive drive music, and then to more uptempo club bangers.
As at June 2020, #Amapiano has reached over 73 million views on Tiktok. The genre has grown so rapidly that the video-sharing platform has dedicated an in-app playlist that exclusively features new and popular Amapiano music so as to promote the sound. The growth of the music has been heavily aided by unique dance moves that accompanies each songs. This, along with some viral social media challenges, have helped the music trend on TikTok. Other platforms like WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook have also accelerated its growth.
Also on YouTube, the Amapiano movement pushed by some dedicated Amapiano-only accounts. One of such accounts is ‘Amapiano Music Entertainment’ which has over 51,000 subscribers as at the time of writing this article. Within their numerous videos are 77 compilations of Amapiano dance videos with each video spanning an average length of 9 minutes.
Here is the most viewed dance compilation from the account:
This meteoric growth in popularity was further explained by 22-year-old Gauteng-based DJ/producer, Kwiish SA whose song, Gong Gong, blew up through WhatsApp, he said:
“When you send music through WhatsApp, there is no stopping it. So the name Kwiish SA was already on kids’ phones and I would hear my music being played in local taxis, not knowing exactly how it got there.”
It was through this medium that the foundational hits of Amapiano shot to fame. Songs like “Amabele” by Kabza de Small, “Shesha Geza” by De Mthuda and Kaygee and Bizizi’s “Kokota Piano” owe their breakthrough to them.
The main propagators of the sound are producers and DJs. The most popular artists being DJ Maphorisa, Kabza De Small (DJ), DJ Sumbody and Moonchild Sanelly.
This year, the biggest producers of amapiano are Vigro Deep, The Lowkeys, Leehleza, De Mthuda, DJ Papers and Thebelebe Onalenna.
Amapiano producers have benefited from remixing familiar vocals off already popular songs and giving them an Amapiano feel.
Amapiano has also become increasingly popular because musicians these days don’t need record labels to go mainstream like before. Most underground artists record, mix and master the whole song on their computer devices without leaving the comforts of their bedrooms. These artists then promote their songs themselves on the microscopic world of social media.
This bloom in the music has caused the music to be heavily recreated by many artists, which comes with its own downside. The amount of followers on the bandwagon has created a monotonous and repetitive sound, staunching its growth and diversity . This has caused some to worry about the potential longevity of Amapiano, Soweto-born 38 Yr old, DJ, Setoki Mbatha, said about this:
“The way I see Amapiano, seriously, it’s not a thing that will last but we want it to go far. The determining factor is whether or not the guys making the music and getting booked for paid gigs go to school or not. If we don’t educate ourselves, we are going to make the same thing forever and ever.”
Another drawback in addition to the shallow, gimmicky and annoyingly repetitive sound are the more recently lewd lyrics, which has alienated music lovers from the genre.
One of the best songs in South Africa is the Amapiano song, Labantwana Ama Uber by Semi Tee which was released last year, 2019. Also, Spotify’s end of year stats for 2019 ranked Amapaino’s Kabza De Small as the most streamed South African artists on Spotify in the country.
Amapiano is considered Africa’s biggest music export behind only Afrobeat. Jerusalema by Master KG, arguably the biggest hit from South Africa in this decade, has Amapiano roots. The song has charted in over 14 countries and is certified platinum in Belgium, France and Italy.
Even Nigerian superstar, Wizkid, has promised to release more Amapiano tracks soon, which might be included in his upcoming album, Made In Lagos. The album was supposed to be released on 15 October, but was pushed forward due to the nationwide protests in Nigeria. A movement which he has actively participated in.
As the COVID pandemic gutted live venues and cut off Amapiano DJs who’d usually average eight to 15 performances each weekend, listener behaviors showed that despite the lack of club scenes, Amapiano grooves continued to gain traction. As at this time last month, in the Top 50 most streamed tracks in South Africa, only four were South African-made: and all four were Amapiano tracks.
It might seem a very new sound and movement but Amapiano might be the one African genre that knocks Afropop off its high perch.