At the end of 2022, we asked for your help in deciding which sounds will leave a lasting impression on 2023 and you didn’t disappoint. With genres as varied as Bossa Nova, Jersey Club and Reggaeton, global music is in a wonderful place.
In the first part of our ongoing spotlight on the genres that mean the most to you, we’re traveling to South Africa to chart the rise and rise of Amapiano. A mashup of House, Kwaito, R&B, Jazz and other local elements, grounded by hypnotizing piano riffs, basslines and incredible dance moves, the sound first made waves in South African culture in the mid-2010s. Now, it represents the nation’s youth culture and has had the world purring over the last couple of years. DJs and musicians such as Kabza De Small, DJ Maphorisa and Uncle Waffles represent it with intense pride and have toured throughout Africa and Europe spreading the message. But what makes Amapiano tick, and why has everyone begun catching up?
We reached out to two of the genre’s biggest names. Khanyisa (pictured centre above) is an award-winning creator and vocalist who released her latest EP, Halfway, in October 2022. Meanwhile, Uncle Vinny (pictured left above), who is seen as one of the leaders of Amapiano’s youth movement, is a dancer and radio host who has worked with MTV Base and various radio stations throughout South Africa. They give us the breakdown on one of the most exciting genres around.
Describe the energy of Amapiano in three words.
Khanyisa: It's electrifying! Definitely fiery. It's so vast and it goes straight to the soul. I need more than three words!
Uncle Vinny: Refreshing, gives you joy, and rebellious. Something new.
What is Amapiano most known for and why do you love it?
Khanyisa: Amapiano is known first of all for being a genre that is purely from South Africa. Everything about this genre comes from here. As it's traveling the world, we want everyone to know that it is from here. We own it as South Africans and we are so proud that it is going all over because it's such a versatile genre. You can jazz-ify Piano, you can deep house-ify it, as long as we hear the kick of the log drum, that is Piano.
Uncle Vinny: [Amapiano is] known for its charm. It has a very different sound. I can’t really explain it but it brings joy, a lot of amazing sounds combined together with a hectic baseline. It’s refreshing. You could be going through something and then hear an Amapiano song, it can add to your joy or it could wash the pain away.
Tell us about an Amapiano DJ or party that is really pushing the scene forward.
Khanyisa: I’ve got too many DJs in mind! From pioneers to the new kids; I know some kids still in school pushing the sound forward and on big songs! Major League DJz’ ‘The Balcony Mix’ is a party that is really popular right now and taking us to new places.
Uncle Vinny: Major League DJz are making major moves in trying to commercialize the whole sound and making sure we’re all trying some new collaborations and tapping into different spaces in the world.
What is one trend that Amapiano needs to embrace/reject?
Khanyisa: We need to embrace singing in English. We're seeing a lot of vernaculars and that works because we've got 11 official languages in South Africa. So there's literally all of those languages that you can sing. But I think if we could just lean more towards singing in English, then we'd make it universal. Amapiano needs to reject the stigma that it is not a genre. It's a genre, fully solid. We mustn't be scared to own it, wherever we go. Amapiano is a full genre created in South Africa point blank.
Uncle Vinny: The creativity of the dances that come with the sound need to be appreciated more because that’s the most fun part. It allows people to get loose and really relate to the vibe of Amapiano and I think that makes it easier to build communities. But we need to make more music videos! We need to travel and diversify the sound, people need to know about us!
What do you think lies in Amapiano's future?
Khanyisa: Amapiano lies in Ampiano’s future! More Amapiano will be given to us and more will be made by us, different types, different feels. It’s such a vast genre that we can explore more textures, whether that’s during production or after with dance moves or something. It should never end!
Uncle Vinny: Amapiano’s future relies on us because we have to be the ones to be able to fix it. But I feel it’s going to be recognised a lot more internationally and there will be more opportunities for more South African artists to be abroad and be recognised. The whole world needs to know what we are. The future should bring more opportunities in South Africa for people to tap into the culture.
What impact do you hope to make on the genre?
Khanyisa: I would love to bring so many elements because, as a vocalist, I sing as well as rap. I will definitely be exploring myself and my vocal abilities as well as my dance moves. Impact wise, I just want people to find themselves in my songs and learn to love themselves as they are. As a woman, I gravitate towards women and their experiences and I tell the stories some women can't tell for themselves. So I want to be the one that speaks for them. So yeah, female empowerment and female beauty!
Uncle Vinny: As a cultural vessel, I’m going to represent us doing Amapiano our own way. I hope I can help it grow and make people very aware of it and its history and hopefully change lives and bring joy through the music. Let’s take this to the top top level - let’s win Grammys!
Head over to Mixcloud to discover more Amapiano shows and all of our genres.
Check out more musical deep dives on Campus.