Unless you had been living under a rock, you couldn’t help but feel the creep of South Africa’s Townships latest musical export. During the global shutdown the sound, which began as a slow creep through the African diaspora, steamrolled its way into the consciousness of the masses, generating column inches in mainstream publications around the world. What we do know is that the Amapiano (Zulu for ‘the piano’) origin story is up for grabs and unlike house music it’s distinct, yet strangely familiar, laid-back sound is for groovers who don’t want to sweat.
You might ask how a Township music, industry insiders wrote off as a fad, swept the globe. With limited finances, like other newer underground electronic music forms, artists and producers made use of the technologies they had access to. Let the disruption begin. Online file sharing hosts like Whatsapp supported wide distribution networks and social platforms were readily available tools for the promotion of diy music videos clips via mobile phone; with many songs blowing after going viral. The technology shone a light on the dances, fashion and lifestyles (lived and aspired to) associated with the music; fans were sold and bought into the Amapiano movement. Key releases made the industry pay attention.
With its deep house sensibilities, Kwaito swag, jazz infused synth lines and diBacardi percussive elements Ama’s slower tempo and at times kick free ride have enabled the sound to fit into the more familiar pre-existing scenes of hip hop, dance hall, afro beat, and r&b like a long lost cousin. This familiarity is a part of its power as it appeals to the listener’s imagination through nostalgic references connected to memories, enabling it to penetrate more than the ‘house crowd’ abroad. Now we mention the house fraternity we would be remis to overlook recent heated debates on social media regarding the tempo the music is played at and whether the new sound would be stripped of its component elements by other genres such as UK Funky and Afro Beats before it has had the opportunity to fully establish itself. It’s too early to call, but what is evident is that around the world there will be a scene for the purist and one for those that adapt/co-opt the sound to suit their existing musical landscape. In the UK there are already cries of Ama Funky, Funky piano and Ama UK.
Wherever you sit in the debate there’s a fine line between appropriation and adoption. Tip your hat to the originators, and as the world opens, let’s get ready to ride ‘The Yano’ wave.
Sundays 2pm BST | 3pm CAT tune in to the AMA international, the world’s first international Amapiano radio show, hosted by AMA taste maker Da Kruk and documentarian Paper Cutt. Peep his Amapiano documentary Shaya!
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