What is Amapiano?
Amapiano has become a global sensation in recent years, making its way into dance floors all around the world, especially in Nigeria. It began as a South African trend. Amapiano, a Zulu phrase that means “the pianos” in English, is a South African fusion of jazz, house, and lounge music. Synths, airy pads, and expansive percussion melodies set these apart.
Music producer Mark Khosa from South Africa acknowledges in a documentary that “many producers have looked down on the amapiano sound and categorized it as low quality.” Emerging music, dance, culinary, and cultural movements from the African continent are sometimes regarded as inferior to those from Europe and are frequently derided in this way.
High-pitched piano melodies, Kwaito basslines (another South African genre created in the 1990s), slow-tempo 90s South African house rhythms, and Bacardi percussion are some of its distinguishing features.
Origins of Amapiano
Although the genre became famous in the township of Katlehong, east of Johannesburg, there has been much discussion about the genre’s definition. Some claim the genre originated in Pretoria because of the style’s resemblance to Bacardi, and the origin of Amapiano is still up for question.
It is impossible to definitively identify the popular genre’s origins due to conflicting accounts. According to Siphiwe Ngwenya, co-founder of the South African label Born in Soweto, “If you put 50 people in a room and you asked them where (Amapiano) started, you’ll get different answers and some pretty passionate debates.” However, Mdu aka TRP has been given credit for developing this genre.
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From South Africa to Nigeria
The South African music stars Kabza de Small, DJ Maphorisa, Focalistic, Oskido, and others made the genre popular throughout Africa, especially in Nigeria, where it has been extremely well received since the fourth quarter of 2020. Unknown to many Nigerians, however, Amapiano aspects have existed in Nigeria under the Afro-House genre due to the overlap between the two.
Since the release of her debut album, This Is Me, in 2017, which has received 1.7 million Spotify streams, Niniola has been utilizing the Afro-house sound. Numerous Nigerian musicians have used Amapiano since 2017, among them are DJ Kaywise, Falz, Rexxie, and Zinoleesky.
After responding to a music fan who claimed that Davido had brought the Amapiano sound outside of South Africa, South African DJ, DJ Maphorisa unintentionally ignited an Amapiano feud on September 14. The fan also brought up Wizkid’s song Bad To Me, claiming that the musician joined the Amapiano trend after Davido found success with it. The fan credited Davido with being a sound pioneer that other musicians have long admired.
However, DJ Maphorisa was having none of it and replied to the tweet to correct the fan, pointing out that their collaboration with Kabza De Small on the song Sponono, which featured Wizkid and Burna Boy, was actually the first to feature them on an Amapiano record and that it was released three years prior.
Let’s look at some notable releases that contributed to the development of this sound in Nigeria:
1. Mayorkun – Of Lagos
Mayorkun’s Of Lagos may not have made it into the group chat of Amapiano albums acceptable to the South African market, but it was released on April 13th with some undeniable Amapiano components such as the drum pads at the start, and the usually leisurely tempo backed up by airy synth.
This was a new sound for the Nigerian market, combining elements from Street-Hop to Afrobeats. Of Lagos, produced by Fresh VDM, was an instant hit and is the first known Amapiano-infused music by a mainstream Nigerian act.
2. eWallet – KDDO ft Cassper Nyovest
KDDO, also known as Kiddominant, had entered the Amapiano fray, claiming that he’d begun Amapiano in West Africa with his Cassper Nyovest-featured Wallet and that he’d rightly staked his claim given that the eWallet was issued on June 25th, 2020.
Aside from being an Amapiano pioneer, eWallet is an intriguing Amapiano entry because, despite the producer- Kiddominant is Nigerian, the silky Amapiano sound and Cassper Nyovest’s involvement give it a very South African feel. In actuality, the video was shot in South Africa, and it felt like a song from that region, although receiving some popularity in West Africa through TV and radio exposure.
3. Masterkraft feat. Flavour – Equipment
This record did not become particularly popular, but it was notable for bearing some characteristics of an Amapiano record, from the airy feel and drum pads to the thrilling piano that had served as a bedrock for Flavour’s relaxed flow. It was likewise a worthy case of localizing Amapiano elements, this time with Flavour’s highlife music style. Equipment, owned and produced by Masterkraft, was released on June 29th, 2020.
4. Sponono – Kabza De Small ft Wizkid, Burna Boy, Cassper Nyovest & Madume
Cross-cultural collaborations have long been common, especially in the African music scene, where artists from South Africa, Ghana, and Nigeria frequently work together. One of these albums was Sponono, the first real Amapiano crossover with a South African producer and a combination of players from the sound’s birthplace as well as Nigeria.
As Wizkid and Burna Boy’s second musical collaboration and first appearance on an Amapiano record, Sponono had a big cultural impact. The song, which was released on June 25th, 2020, was a surprise smash.
5. Rema – Woman
Rema’s Woman had completely taken over the scene and stood out as distinct from the jump with the snare and light pads that gets louder during the chorus. This record was the second effort by a Nigerian singer and producer team to create popular music with Amapiano influences following Mayorkun’s Of Lagos. Ozedikus produced Rema’s Woman, which was released on July 3rd, 2020.
6. Addicted – Niniola
Given her status as the “Queen of Afrohouse,” Niniola had to join in on the Amapiano fun. She did so right away on the Sarz-produced song Addicted, which combines her Afrohouse sound with the percussion-heavy basslines of Amapiano and her captivating vocals. Addicted, which was released on July 17th, 2020, was a success and solidified Niniola’s status as a pioneer of Afrohouse.
7. Mr Money – Asake
Because of their fusion of Afrobeats, Fuji, and HipHop over Amapiano-infused sonics, Neo-Fuji singer Asake and Zinoleesky’s music is currently referred to by music aficionados on Twitter as “Fuji-Piano.” It’s interesting to note that Asake released the hypertune Mr. Money in August 2020, which appears to have been a successful collaboration between Asake and his producer, Magic Sticks.
8. Kilofeshe – Zinoleesky
The moment Zinoleesky released Kilofeshe, every area where music is valued—including the streets, clubs, social media, and private spaces—went wild. It had revived street music and represented a complete localization of the Amapiano sound, as it had been done by Niphkeys, in which the elements were confronted head-on by Fuji and Afrobeat components to make a banger track. On November 27, 2020, Kilofeshe was released, and it quickly became a massive end-of-year hit.
9. Squander – Falz, Niniola
Squander features all, or the majority of, the Amapiano musical elements, including the loopy horns, airy pads, bouncing basslines, and synth chords. The Yung Willis-produced record, which was optimized for the Nigerian market with its fast speed, quickly found favorable footing on the music scene following its release on the 4th of December, 2020. This was further emphasized by Falz’s effortless flow on the beat and Niniola’s singing.
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10. Hallelu – Masterkraft, Bella Shmurda, Zlatan
With his horn-infused Amapiano-infused street hop banger, which he worked on with Bella Shmurda and Zlatan, Masterkraft has previously demonstrated a propensity for using horns on his Amapiano compositions. Hallelu, which was published on December 11th, 2020, was one of the songs that brought a musically successful year to a close.
11. High Way – DJ Kaywise ft Phyno
Amapiano bangers were a big part of the music for December 2020, and DJ Kaywise’s track Highway with Phyno on it was one among them. Highway, which was produced by Yung Willis, used Amapiano’s powerful basslines, snares, and synth while maintaining the fast-paced style of Nigerian street hop music to create an addictive record that was primarily delivered by Phyno in Igbo.
12. Ke Star Remix – Focalistic and Davido ft Virgo Deep
Davido, a strong proponent of the adage “go big or go home,” joined the Amapiano bandwagon by working with well-known South African rapper Focalistic to remix his song “Ke Star.” Nigerians came to learn Amapiano dance routines with more vigor and flair after the song spread like wildfire and acted as a bridge for the two countries’ admiration and love of Amapiano music. One of the most popular songs in the country as well as South Africa was the Ke Star remix, which was released on February 19, 2021.
13. Monalisa – Lojay and Sarz
Monalisa by Lojay and Sarz has a popular remix featuring American singer Chris Brown, demonstrating the popularity of the original song. As the lead track on Lojay and Sarz’s collaborative EP, it debuted as a commuter hit before exploding into a blockbuster hit thanks to the flute-driven, hazy Amapiano vibe it featured.
It’s noteworthy to remark that before Lojay joined the track and gave it clean slate, Sarz already had the Amapiano instrumentals for Monalisa. On June 4th, 2021, Monalisa and the LV N ATTN EP were made available.
14. Yaba Buluku Remix – DJ Tarico and Burna Boy ft Preck and Nelson Tivane
The Yaba Buluku remix by DJ Tarico and Burna Boy offers a brief geography lesson on the various Swahili-speaking South African countries, including Mozambique, the DJ’s own country, where Nigeria and Mozambique exchange cultures, sounds, and musical ability. It’s interesting to note that on Yaba Buluku, the two countries were represented not only by musicians but also by hypemen, who raised the culture of their countries by praising the performer in their native tongues.
Although it hasn’t been proved, it’s possible that the heavy bassline and synth on Yaba Buluku are the result of sound variations caused by geographical sonic differences. Whatever the case, the song immediately became popular in Nigeria and other African countries.
15. Ameno Amapiano Remix – Goya Menor and Nektunez
Nobody anticipated that a song would emerge from the Lagos nightlife custom of playing Era’s Gregorian chant-infused Ameno to commemorate bottle purchases in the clubs, but it did so for Goya Menor with his Ameno Amapiano Remix. The song had actually become so popular that it had inspired an internet competition and eventually encountered copyright problems that necessitated a temporary removal.
The song, which was published in December 2021, made a case for Amapiano music’s localization by Nigerians, who often combine the sound with Afrobeats, by demonstrating to the globe the compelling potential and driving force that it possesses.
What is the Future of Amapiano in Nigeria?
However, this is not the first time Nigeria has embraced a well-liked “foreign” sound. Early in the past decade, artists like Koffi Olomide and Awilo Logomba popularized the Congo’s makossa. The Azonto wave from Ghana was also heavily taken. By working with South African musicians, singers like Davido, Burna Boy, Wizkid, and Naira Marley have already begun to capitalize on the sound.
This provides a fresh frontier for the Nigeria music and more room for expansion, in a way helping to preserve the genre. Amapiano had come to Nigeria and Nigerian musicians serve as a launching pad, helping to push the Amapiano sound to the rest of the world. In essence, no single artist can take the glory for bringing Amapiano down to Nigeria.