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Amapiano is going global. It started as a refreshing breeze shaking the EDM landscape. And today we’re witnessing not only its dizzying evolution but also its consolidation as a genre. Amapiano – Zulu word for “the pianos” – emerged in South Africa in the early 2010s as a further subgenre of house music, or rather as a derivative of kwaito – a variation on the ‘90s house beat, usually at a slower tempo, combined with old local music like marabi, kwela and mbaganga, plus some hip-hop and dancehall influences.

Amapiano’s formula is definitely based on kwaito, but its mix is even more diverse, including deep house, lounge music and piano with hints of jazz. In a basic, root sense, it’s still slowed-down house music, supported by the use of keyboards and the distinctive sound of the log drum, creating a well-rhythmic but less fierce and more relaxed atmosphere. The log drum is amapiano’s signature wavy percussion: a raw bass line with a kick drum effect – also described as a “kwaito percussive bass line.”

Like any expression of popular culture, there’s no precise date and place to mark the birth of amapiano. It began to spread, almost like an experimental sound, in 2012. It was like a nationwide outbreak, coincidentally in different parts of the country, from Johannesburg to Pretoria. One of the first to adopt and popularize the sound – especially in Soweto – was DJ Stokie, not in vain also called the “Superman of Amapiano,” although his real name is Setoki Mbatha. “I heard this unique sound from these other DJs called MFR Souls from the East Rand and I loved it,” Stokie told News24.

Yes, in that initial boil, many pointed to pioneering DJ/producer duo MFR Souls as the creator and coiner of amapiano. Originally from Katlehong, a township southeast of Johannesburg, Tumelo “Force” Mabe and Tumelo “Maero” Nedondwe met in 2009 and became partners around 2013. They began by trying different sounds, combining kwaito with productions from local veteran deep house DJs Clock and Bekzin Terri. Their hit single “Love You Tonight” was a huge success and was certified platinum in South Africa.

Almost simultaneously, but from the capital city of Pretoria, amapiano’s beats poured out from the mixers of Kabza De Small and DJ Maphorisa. Both artists played a pivotal role in shaping and expanding the sound. Not long ago, in 2019, they even joined forces under the name of Scorpion Kings to rack up millions of plays on digital platforms and definitely become one of the biggest stars of this fast-growing genre.

Originally from Alexandra, a suburb commonly called “Gomora” by locals, located on the outskirts of Johannesburg, Tumelo Manyoni adopted the stage name of Mr JazziQ to become one of the great figures of the amapiano movement. DJ and producer, he was part of the celebrated duo JazziDisciples, from 2017 to 2020, alongside his colleague Josiah De Disciple. In recent years he has worked with practically all the artists on the scene. His song “Woza” released in 2021, with collaborations from Kabza De Small and Lady Du, became one of the biggest hits in amapiano’s brief but exciting history.

A few months earlier, coincidentally, another hit titled “Woza” came out, but this time signed by Zimbabwean-born South African singer-songwriter Sha Sha. Born in Mutare, one of the most populous cities in Zimbabwe, Charmaine Shamiso Mapimbiro managed to get her songs played on local radio as a teenager, until she came across and began collaborating with South African musicians such as DJ Maphorisa and Kabza De Small. Today, Sha Sha is a permanent resident of Johannesburg – also known as Joburg or “The City of Gold” – where she’s often called “The Queen of Amapiano.”

Of course, there are many women going to the front in the amapiano outpost. Originally from Soweto, Kamogelo Mphela, popularly known as Kamo Mphela, is a dancer and singer who became an internet celebrity after posting a video on her social media. To date, she has collaborated with leading artists such as MFR Souls, in addition to having signed a huge hit like “Nkulunkulu” on her own, boosted by a clip of a great choreographic display.

The global impact of amapiano is remarkable. “Love it or hate it, amapiano is putting African music on the global stage. It’s believed to have started around 2012 but it wasn’t until 2019 that we see this music and its dance moves being adopted across the continent with record-breaking hits every single month,” says Murphy, host of the YouTube channel Oh Afro. But it would be unfair to limit its success to a musical formula: there’s a much broader background, socially and culturally. As Cape Town-based writer and photographer Nkgopoleng Moloi wrote in Dazed“Amapiano is much more than just a hybrid of deep house, jazz piano and lounge. It’s the sound of a new generation of black youths in a country escaping not only the current restrictions, but colonial and apartheid ghosts.”