For almost a decade, South African House subgenre Amapiano has grown from being classified as just a simple but highly appraised style of house music to one of the most successful musical genres to come out of Africa. Since its official inception, it has become extremely popular as DJs and producers develop their unique patterns, sampling old classics and revamping African House music as we know it.
The term ‘Amapiano’, which is Zulu for ‘The Pianos’, was coined and popularized by South African House music duo MFR Souls. The musical duo, together with record producer and Dj Kabza De Small, has been credited as one of the key players in the commercial success of this genre. The idea behind the name was to serve as a reference to the piano melodies commonly known to accompany the fast-paced beat. Amapiano is heavily influenced by kwaito and is fused with basslines associated with 90’s deep house music, traditional percussion and an obvious jazz-inspired synth line. This experimental but highly unique musical arrangement became popular among ‘bedroom producers’ and was deemed inferior to mainstream music. Regardless of this, the audience who truly appreciated this sound steadily grew as it became the go-to sound used in clubs and house parties. Before it gained mainstream recognition, upcoming producers shared their mixes through file-sharing via various messaging platforms and online forums, an effective method that helped increase its reach.
At its preliminary stage, producers and DJs would create mixes that had no specific styles, giving room for a free-spirited sound that was influenced by numerous preexisting genres. The lack of boundaries allowed it to grow without interference, transcending cultural and musical lines as it did so. As more people became attuned to this sound, a movement that embraced, encouraged and promoted the various cultures that inspired it, was formed. Amapiano became more than just a genre of music. It became an expression and a celebration of a unique way of life as it encouraged a unique sense of dressing, became its own language and came up with its own dance patterns.
By 2020, it had attained global recognition as #amapiano, a hashtag created to enable musicians to promote their music among the global music community, garnered over 100 million on TikTok views. By the end of the year, Deezer had reported that their ‘Amapiano Playlist‘ was among the most streamed playlist of the year. Spotify also revealed that the most streamed local artist from South Africa in the same year was one of the recognized pioneers of the genre, Dj Kabza De Small. The level of success AmaPiano attained has exceeded all initial expectations, and with more and more people appreciating the genre, it has become the most successful genre of music to come out of South Africa. However, this does not mean it has gone uncriticized. Its unusually musical arrangement has garnered negative reviews from critics, and top producers have not so silently disapproved of the use of stock beats and samples. One of such critics is German producer Dj Lars Behrenroth. After listening to Amapiano music for the first time, he called it a ‘snooze fest’.
Regardless of this, artists all around the continent have begun to tap into this musical gold mine. More and more collaborations between artists of different genres and Amapiano Djs have been gracing the airplay.
Amapiano’s strong cultural ties, impressive growth, and incredible method of relating and speaking to the people has made it a genre of music that will not diminish in time. It is popularly referred to as the people’s music, and its impact on the community is felt across the African continent.