Image credit: Major League DJz Youtube screenshot

Amapiano: One Planet Under a Groove


I was first introduced to the genre known as Amapiano in 2020. During lockdown, I spent much of each day caring for my then-one-year-old and digital-digging for music on YouTube.

It all began with a song called “Amantombazane” (meaning “The Girls” in English) by DJ Maphorisa, Kabza De Small and vocalist Samthing Soweto. The song builds from the two-step inducing beat, adding in light chords and, finally, the groove. No two-minute hit—they take their time to bring you into the jam.

We were instantly hooked.

This song sent us on a journey into the liquid, house and jazz-influenced funk that is Amapiano music. In the ever-evolving landscape of music, this genre is causing a seismic shift in the Afro-pop world, most recently dominated by mainly Nigerian Afrobeats artists.

Amapiano, hailing from the heart of South Africa, has emerged as a musical sensation that transcends borders, bringing people together through its distinctive sound.

Amapiano, which means “the pianos” in Zulu, traces its roots to the townships of South Africa, particularly in Pretoria. Emerging in the early 2010s, it began as an underground movement, with DJs and producers experimenting with elements of deep house, jazz and kwaito. The genre’s signature sound is characterized by its hypnotic piano melodies, deep basslines and rhythmic percussion, creating a unique fusion of genres that resonates with a wide range of listeners.

At the core of Amapiano is its unmistakable rhythm. The genre is known for its slow and steady beats that make it perfect for dancing and grooving (the goal of dancing to Amapiano is not to sweat). The infectious rhythms are created using electronic instruments and traditional African percussion, blending old and new sounds seamlessly. Amapiano is not just about beats; it’s also about melodies that touch the soul. Pianos take center stage, adding an emotional depth to the music. These soulful melodies are often accompanied by catchy vocal hooks and harmonies, making each track a musical journey. Speaking of vocals, the genre is mostly sung in the Zulu and Xhosa, Sotho, Setswana and Xitsonga languages and thrives on collaboration.

DJs and producers frequently work together, resulting in tracks that incorporate various artists’ unique styles. This collaborative spirit has led to the genre’s rapid evolution and innovation. Amapiano’s appeal transcends borders, with artists from different countries eager to collaborate with South African Amapiano stars. These collaborations have not only introduced the genre to new audiences but also added fresh perspectives to its sound. Amapiano has become a staple in clubs and music festivals worldwide and has revived dead dance floors. DJs from various corners of the world now include Amapiano tracks in their sets.

Amapiano’s popularity on streaming platforms is another testament to its global influence. Songs by Amapiano artists have amassed millions of streams, with tracks like “Mnike” by Tyler ICU & (featuring DJ Maphorisa) putting social media platforms like TikTok in a chokehold. 

The scene is also ultra-inclusive in terms of women artists. Women vocalists, rappers, DJs and producers enjoy the same exposure as their male counterparts. One such star is DJ Uncle Waffles, who taught herself to spin during lockdown and has subsequently emerged as one of the main faces of Amapiano globally. As Amapiano continues to make its mark on the global music scene, its future looks promising. The genre’s ability to evolve and adapt while staying true to its roots ensures that it will remain relevant for years to come.

Amapiano is more than just a music genre; it’s a cultural phenomenon that has taken the world by storm. With its roots deeply embedded in South African townships, it has grown into a global sensation, captivating audiences with its infectious rhythms and soulful melodies. As Amapiano artists continue to push boundaries and collaborate across borders, one thing is clear: the irresistible groove of Amapiano is here to stay, spreading joy and unity through music.

So, whether you’re on a dance floor in Johannesburg, streaming music in New York, or grooving in your living room, Amapiano invites you to join the worldwide celebration of its distinctive sound.

About Tailfeather

Tailfeather (aka Devan Townsend) is a Queens native who grew up on WBLS, Kiss FM, Hot 97 and Video Music Box. She was born alongside and grew up with Hip-Hop. As a music aficionado and visual artist, her first drawings were done on album slip-covers. She has been a working DJ for the past 11 years and is constantly digging for sounds, both old and new. One of her greatest joys is finding a new song to love and to share with the people!

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