From Afrobeats to Amapiano, is it time for Afropiano on the global stage?

By 'Tofe Ayeni
Posted on Tuesday, 13 September 2022 12:52, updated on Friday, 16 September 2022 17:14

Kamo Mphela, a dancer and singer performs Amapiano, a South African musical export that has crossed borders and cultural barriers, reaching as far as Japan, during a music concert in Pretoria, South Africa, July 22, 2022. REUTERS/Shafiek Tassiem

A new sound is taking over Africa. Coined ‘Afropiano’, it is a mix of West African Afrobeats and South African Amapiano. Amapiano, which means ‘the pianos’ in Zulu, is a style of house music that emerged from South Africa in 2012, and gained immense popularity in 2017.

Amapiano is a mix of deep house, kwaito, jazz and lounge music. Afrobeats, on the other hand, is an umbrella term used to describe West African music to outsiders.

It is often confused with ‘Afrobeat’, the fusion of West African music styles (such as Yoruba traditional music and highlife) and American jazz, funk and soul, which can be traced back to the 1970s and was pioneered by the late Olufela Anikulapo Kuti (Fela).

Afrobeats, also called Afropop or Afrofusion, is a more general term. Although the definition is heavily contested, most African music pundits have no problem recognising the sound when it is heard.

Is Amapiano new to the Nigerian audience?

Although it emerged in South Africa, many across the continent, particularly Nigerian artists and producers, are putting out Amapiano or, more frequently, Amapiano-inspired, songs.

The widespread popularity of these songs in the country is relatively new, but the Nigerian house music scene, which is very much Amapiano-inspired, has been around for a while. Niniola, who finished fourth in the sixth season of the music show Project Fame West Africa in 2013, has aptly been nicknamed the ‘Queen of Afro House.’

Niniola did not always sing in this genre, but after meeting renowned producer Sarz, they founded a new sound in the industry, which at first drew in a fiercely loyal, if niche, crowd.

Their first single together, Ibadi is more of a dancehall track, but since the 2015 release of Soke, her following debut Afrohouse album, and hit tracks such as Maradona and Sicker, Niniola and Sarz have continuously made hits that have been extremely popular on Nigerian and South African radio alike.

Niniola herself says, however, that South Africa accepted her music before her own country, with Nigeria being new to the sound she was pushing: “In Nigeria, I can’t actually mention one artist that does house … You’ll be sure to hear a lot of collaborations from me and my people down south.”

True to her promise, Niniola has songs with South African hitmakers such as Busiswa, Shuffle Muzik, and more. It is easy to say that no, or only one, Nigerian artist(s) dabbled with the South African sound until recently, but this is untrue.

One of the most popular Nigerian artists, Davido, was, as far back as 2014, releasing songs like Tchelete (Goodlife) featuring South African Afropop duo Mafikizolo. The song was a hit when released, but listening to it today, it’s clear that Davido’s first venture into South African music was perhaps ahead of its time.

However, he has taken no time to jump back on the wave as it has regained popularity, with smash hits featuring Pretoria born and raised rapper, Focalistic. Burna Boy and Wizkid have also been featured in songs by popular Amapiano artists.

One music manager based in Lagos, who asked to remain anonymous, says she first noticed Amapiano’s popularity in the West African megacity with “Sponono [Kabza De Small feat. Wizkid, Burna Boy, Cassper Nyovest, Madumane] … I think that was the first time I actually thought about Amapiano as more than another genre of music.”

She continues: “With the fanfare around the record, for a sound that’s not particularly familiar, it was clear to me we were beginning to embrace a sonic shift. When Ke Star Remix with Davido came at the top of the year, I knew these inclinations were correct and that Amapiano would change the music landscape.”

Amapiano’s newfound and rapidly growing popularity

We have seen examples proving that Amapiano has inspired some Nigerian artists for close to a decade, but this amount of traction is definitely new. Last ‘Detty December’, many in Lagos noticed DJs in nightclubs playing full Amapiano sets, which had never been done before.

Nigerian-born producer and music artist, Kiddominant or Kiddo, who had arguably one of the most successful Afropiano songs of 2021eWallet featuring Cassper Nyovest, calls this sound ‘SouthBeats’ and says it uses the Amapiano template from South Africa and embellishes it with the traditional Afrobeats flavour.

Afrobeats to the world

Afrobeats is now classified as a global sound with the statement ‘Afrobeats to the world’ being popular on social media. Documentary directors and producers are using this opportunity to tell the story of this global sound.

In June 2022, a 12-episode documentary series called Afrobeats: The Back Story premiered on Netflix. Filmed over a period of two decades, the series shows never before seen footage and claims to tell the evolution of Afrobeats. However, as with all complicated music genres, from rock to jazz, there are disagreements about the trajectory of the sound.

Musician and record label owner Dare Fasasi, also known as Baba Dee, said on Instagram that this particular documentary was: “A poor attempt to change the narrative of the evolution of the Afrobeat music genre by latter participants who took the narrative from their own perspective while disregarding important events and players…”


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He adds: “The Netflix documentary featured distorted sequence and false claims, jumping into the middle of the narrative without proper background check does history no good.”

But does history matter? For music pundits and critics, the stories on the evolution of Amapiano and Afrobeats, and their fusion, are of utmost importance. However, for many artists and producers, for West and Southern Africans proud of their music, global recognition is enough.

Afropiano is arguably the current most popular sound on the continent, and, just as Afrobeats has gone worldwide, many in the music industry are hoping for the same for this new fusion sound.

The mixing of Amapiano “with Afrobeats perhaps made the genre more familiar in the early days, and gave Afropop fans and listeners an entry point,” says the music manager.

However, she adds that Amapiano can hold its own as it has “unlike most other contemporary South African genres, truly made a name for itself on the global stage.”

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