Skip to content

The Rise of Amapiano Music, South Africa's Popular New House Genre


It is clear to anyone who has been keeping an eye on South Africa's music scene that 2019 was a big year for emerging house genre Amapiano. In the recent 2019 documentary 'Shaya!', DJs and fans of the popular house subgenre made it clear that the sound, which morphs elements of South Africa's already popular house music with new distinct beats and rhythms, is here to stay for the long run and is poised to leave a long-lasting impact on South African culture. 

Emerging around the townships of Pretoria in 2016, Amapiano is a medley of deep house, jazz, kwaito and lounge music with distinct synths, airy pads, wide basslines and percussions from another local subgenre of house called Bacardi. The name was selected to reflect the melodious piano keyboards that underlie fast-pace Gqom beats. It is a combination of the Zulu plural article "ama" and the English noun "piano".

Initially, Amapiano was classified as simply an underground sound that floated amongst Gauteng township's residential DJs' WhatsApps and house parties. Following key releases from popular South African artists like Samthing Soweto, Moonchild Sanelly, and Sho Madjozi, the sound blew up to become an anthemic part of South Africa's house scene.

Now in 2020, Amapiano is extending its reach beyond South Africa and topping the charts in countries around the continent. For those unfamiliar with the genre, The Folklore put together a playlist and summary of the Amapiano songs and artists you need to know, as well as a recap of the documentary, 'Shaya!'.

Amapiano Party in South Africa

The Best Amapiano Songs 

Just like Gqom, another popular South African electronic subgenre, Amapiano was discredited by many top artists and mainstream media at first. But open-minded DJs such as Kabza De Small, MFR Souls, Jazzi Disciples, DJ Maphorisa amongst others changed the fate of the subgenre. Most of the tracks that have topped the charts this past year incorporate Amapiano. 

Kabza de Small and DJ Maphorisa's Scorpion Kings is the impressive opus of their ongoing Amapiano collaborations. Both DJs managed to create the right alchemy between Amapiano's underground roots and commercial viability. Its stand-out song 'Emcimbini' is doing extremely well across streaming services and single "Amantombazane" featuring Samthing Soweto is a crowd favorite at braais (South African BBQs) and clubs.

Samthing Soweto's other popular contribution to Amapiano is the hit song "Akulaleki", off his debut album IsphithiphithiZimbabwean singer Sha Sha, dubbed Amapiano's 'first lady', has shared her vocals on numerous tracks with Kabza De Small and DJ Maphorisa and her new album has topped the charts. Below is a full playlist curated by The Folklore featuring the top 22 Amapiano songs to enjoy. 


The Key Artists behind the Amapiano Movement

MFR Souls are known to have come up with the name for the genre and were key players in helping it become mainstream. In the beginning, it was difficult for Amapiano to get played on the radio. YFM Radio station's host Da Kruk was the first to play Amapiano before any other radio and DJ host. He launched the station's first Amapiano Hour.

Afterward, the biggest show in the country 'Live AMP' broadcasted the DJs mixing the subgenre, which caught the rest of the music industry's attention. Social Media influencers like Mbali Sibeko and Dimpie Dimpopo became ambassadors for Amapiano as they created and shared viral videos that featured the music.



The Making of Shaya!

The 26-minute documentary, which you can view below, follows several artists that explain the origins of Amapiano, their rise to fame and the legacy they want to leave behind. The director of the film, Thabang "Papercutt" Moloto, was a fan of Amapiano since its humble beginnings.

He was so fascinated by the genre that he felt compelled to help the artists involved with its rise tell their stories. Corona Beer launched a premium multiple city tour in South Africa called 'Amapiano Sunsets' earlier in 2019 headlined by frontrunners of the subgenre and new talent. During the filming of this tour, Moloto followed and interviewed the artists, visited their studios and had intimate conversations with the creators.

Written by Christine Noumba Um