In the groove: Amapiano experiences increasing popularity

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Hailed by many as "The Queen of Amapiano", her career began in 2011, at the age of 19 and was later discovered by Audius Mutawarira. She gained popularity for her collaborations with South African Amapiano producers such as DJ Maphorisa and Kabza de Small.

By Fred Zindi

Last week, on hearing that South African award-winning Amapiano duo, dancer and musician, Kamo Mphela and Amapiano “goddess” , Shasha had flown into the country to headline an Amapiano Fiesta set for last Saturday at Danai Farm, Domboshava, I frantically tried in vain to find out which hotel they were booked in so that I could have an interview, especially with Shasha.

Charmaine Shamiso “ShaSha” Mapimbiro, born July 13,1994, is a Zimbabwean-born South Africa-based singer from Mutare, Zimbabwe.

Hailed by many as “The Queen of Amapiano”, her career began in 2011, at the age of 19 and was later discovered by Audius Mutawarira. She gained popularity for her collaborations with South African Amapiano producers such as DJ Maphorisa and Kabza de Small.

Having signed a record deal with Blaq Boy Music, her debut Blossom EP, which received her an award of Best New International Act at the 2020 BET Awards, was released in 2019.

Born in Mutare, Mapimbiro moved around Zimbabwe while growing up following her parents’ separation, often residing with her grandmother or aunts. Her music journey began after joining the choir at church where she subsequently took vocal and piano lessons as a child. She eventually settled in South Africa in search of new musical adventures. Here she slid into the Amapiano groove.

In South Africa, ShaSha was signed to DJ Maphorisa’s label, Blaqboy Music in 2018.

After gaining prominence with her vocals on the songs Akulaleki by Samthing Soweto, NgeThanda Wena by Mlindo the vocalist  and We Mama by Scorpion Kings, ShaSha then went on to release her debut EP, Blossom on November 1, 2019.

On December 3, 2020, ShaSha released the single Woza which put her into prominence and gave her the label “the Queen of Amapiano”

Amapiano (Zulu or Ndebele name for  “the pianos”), is a new musical style of house music that emerged in South Africa in 2012.

Amapiano is a hybrid of deep house, jazz, and lounge music characterised by synthesisers, airy pads and wide percussive bass lines.

It is distinguished by high-pitched piano melodies, Kwaito bass lines, low tempo 90’s South African house rhythms and percussion from another local subgenre of house known as Barcardi.

Although the genre gained popularity in Katelhong, the township East of Johannesburg, there’s a lot of ambiguity concerning its origins, with various accounts of the musical styles in the Johannesburg townships. Because of the genre’s similarities with Bacardi, some people assert the genre began in Pretoria and there has been an on- going debate about the origin of Amapiano.

Various accounts as to who formed the popular genre make it impossible to accurately pinpoint its origins.

In 2020, the genre experienced increased popularity across the African continent with noted increases in digital streams and chart successes in countries far from its South African origin. It is now gaining momentum in Zimbabwe as evidenced by the coming of Major League ,Kamo Mphela and Shasha to full houses.

In a surprise music move, South Africa’s Afro-pop sensation Vusi Nova has hopped onto the amapiano bandwagon.

The As’phelelanga and Ndikuthandile hit-maker recently surprised his fans  with the release of a new Amapiano track ShukuShuku.

He is not only exploring a new genre, but has introduced his new moniker S’Nova, which he dubbed as his alter ego.

Vusi Nova has plans to do collaborations with all the popular artistes dominating the Amapiano charts in South Africa right now.

These include Madumane (fondly known as Maphorisa,Kabza de Small, Young Stunner, Sir Trill, Major League, Balcony Mix and others.

Amapiano has gained momentum in South Africa as it is receiving massive airplay.

Although, according to reports, the genre has been around since 2012, I only came across it two years ago, in 2019 when I watched it on DSTV’s music channel,Trace Africa.

Here I saw an ocean of fans break into dance, throwing limp fists in the air as they gyrated, doing the pouncing cat. It was unbelievable! I became more interested when I heard Shasha who is from Mutare (where I  also come from) as one of the more prominent artistes of Amapiano

Though in South Africa, like the rest of the African diaspora, Nigerian Afro-beats has reigned musically for years, South Africa  has a rich history of house music that other African artistes, including Afro-beats stars, are newly tapping into. South African music has moved from Marabi, Pennywhistle, Jive,  Mbac’anga, Kwaito to Amapiano.

Faster than kwaito, Amapiano lifts 1990s kwaito bass lines and the militaristic percussion of the South African house sound bacardi. “It’s almost like it’s the heartbeat of the youth at the moment,” Busiswa, 32, says of Amapiano.

The sound reached its cultural peak around 2018, and while it continued to make waves in the years that followed, by early 2019, amapiano had taken over South African radio and clubs.

Amapiano began to gain traction in South African townships — historically racially segregated residential areas — in 2016.

Most Amapiano isn’t sung in English, which Maphorisa acknowledges can be a hindrance to global penetration in a Western hegemony. He says that South Africans, about 17 percent of whom speak English outside their homes, can be put off by English in local music; it appears hoity.

With his sights set beyond South Africa, Maphorisa is strategising to incorporate a bit more English into his music: “You don’t have to use it much, as long as the person can understand you’re talking about love or heartbreak,” he says.

According to Busiswa, Maphorisa is often thought of as pushing Amapiano into the mainstream, but he has followed the path lit by pioneers like DJ Stokie, Junior Taurus, MFR Souls, Mr JazziQ and Josiah De Disciple, and Kabza De Small. Maphorisa credits Kabza, a 28-year-old DJ and producer from Pretoria, with being one of the first acts to lay vocals atop Amapiano beats.

As a solo artist, Kabza has been the most-streamed local musician on Spotify South Africa for the past two years. His 2020 solo album, I Am the King of Amapiano: Sweet and Dust, was the most popular South African project in Apple Music’s history.

For his part, Kabza is a Maphorisa fan, and in 2019 the pair formed the duo Scorpion Kings, rapidly releasing five studio EPs and albums, plus a live album, together since.

A promising sign of Amapiano’s potential for global impact is its popularity across Africa, and particularly Nigeria, which is emerging as the world’s fastest-growing entertainment and media market.

Artistes like Busiswa, Maphorisa and Rema share a vision of musical pan-Africanism, in which any artiste from the continent may experiment with any sound. “It’s just better for everybody if we unite and move forward together,” says Busiswa.

“It’s not very often that new sounds emerge in mainstream dance culture, so when young people create [something] with potential to take over the world, it’s better for us to push it out, rather than saying, ‘This is South African.’ ”

Maphorisa and Busiswa have been teaming up with musicians across the continent who have wanted some of South Africa’s sound. Maphorisa is a part of Kabza’s sweet and infectious “Sponono,” alongside Nigerian Grammy winners Burna Boy and Wizkid, as well as Cassper Nyovest, one of the biggest figures in South African rap.

Nigerian singer Naira Marley tapped Busiswa for his scandalous dance single Coming; Beninese singer Shirazee called upon her for his amapiano track Right Thang.

Collaborations between South African artists and performers from other parts of the continent are happening on a newer and bigger scale, says Busiswa, citing Master KG’s Jerusalema remix with Burna Boy.

A gospel-house song originally released in November 2019, Jerusalema has been streamed more than 552 million times across its various versions and remixes on Spotify alone, and has earned more than a billion views on TikTok.

In Zimbabwe, another genre, Mbiriano, which is also beginning to take shape  is fronted by jazz artiste, Filbert Marova.

According to Filbert, “Mbiriano is a fresh new sound based on mbira music transcriptions originally written for the piano”.

“It combines deep traditional mbira rhythms, harmony and polyphony with jazz licks, riffs, syncopation as well as improvisation to create a novel sound that is fresh and familiar at the same time.

Marova said jazz just like any other genre was developing with time, hence the creation of Mbiriano.

“Mbiriano is an emerging jazz subgenre created around Shona mbira music. All rhythmic and polyphonic elements of mbira are maintained and harmonic plus melodic content are altered in typical jazz format.”

“Any music that is not Zimdancehall, sungura, Afro-pop or reggae is most likely classified as jazz if it’s mellow.” How far Mbiriano will go as a genre is a question of wait and see.

Although I failed to secure an interview  in person with Shasha, I am going to make the effort to interview her on-line as I can tell Amapiano is going to be huge in 2022.

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