amapiano envoys

South Africa: Major League DJz link up with Major Lazer for ‘Piano Republik’ album

By Shingai Darangwa

Posted on June 3, 2023 08:30

 © Photo supplied by label
Photo supplied by label

No one has frontlined the global expansion of amapiano quite like Major League DJz. The DJ duo, which consists of 32 year old twins Banele and Bandile Mbere, transitioned from the new age kwaito genre they’d pioneered for years and into the new and exciting sounds of amapiano in 2019. They’ve effectively spearheaded the genre’s rapid global expansion.

Since transitioning to amapiano, not only have they grabbed headlines by playing the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival alongside the Grammy Award-winning Black Coffee, but they also famously sold out London’s O2 Academy Brixton.

Now the twins have once again made a stride forward after releasing Piano Republik, a collaborative album alongside Major Lazer, the world-famous US-based trio made up of Diplo, Walshy Fire, and Ape Drums in March.

The album, which marks Major Lazer’s first release in three years, sees the two acts work alongside the likes of Yumbs, Tiwa Savage, DJ Maphorisa, Msaki and Joeboy. It also notably features the late South African music icon and activist Brenda Fassie, as well as a pair of guest appearances from R&B superstar Ty Dolla $ign.

How it all started

The genesis of this new album can be traced back to the Major League’s famed YouTube platform, Balcony Mix, which first exploded across the globe during the heart of the coronavirus pandemic. The brothers ran with this global spotlight and, as soon as the world opened again, began touring the world. They have not slowed down since. Instead, they’ve firmly established themselves as the genre’s unofficial global ambassadors.

During this period Diplo, Major Lazer’s de-facto leader, reached out to express his love for Balcony Mix. Things moved quickly and within months they linked up in Los Angeles. “We met in L.A. when we were there for a few shows and we just gelled,” says Bandile. “We did a Balcony Mix together, the first time in his house. He gave us his house for us to do that and it was just amazing.” Before long, they started working on new music together.

Merging two sounds

When asked about how challenging it was finding a meeting point between both their sounds, Bandile confidently declares that it was a seamless process. “Piano can dip into any genre. There’s piano-kwaito, there’s piano-tech, there’s piano-soul, there’s piano-afropop. Piano can mix with anything. Working on this album I realised that that’s why there’s so many sub-genres of amapiano.”

“Just the fact that we can work on amapiano music with one of the best tech DJs in the world is actually mind-blowing when you think about it. The process was very easy and they were very easy to work with, which also allowed us to be us on the project, get our inputs, choose the features, and do our thing. I have big respect for Diplo in that regard. A lot of older people wouldn’t have allowed that or people that are very successful in that space.”

Banele says: “Major Lazer does more cosmopolitan music and when I say cosmopolitan I mean the more pop stuff they do – the very, very pop stuff they do if you listen to their old albums; so the collaboration was adding amapiano to that feel, which I think we got to. We added one of two South African songs just to balance it out so that it doesn’t sound too foreign to the ear.”

Reinventing a South African classic

One of those South African songs is a remake of South African musical icon Brenda Fassie’s classic hit single, ‘Vulindlela’. “Doing that collaboration was amazing for us, even the reception overseas was crazy because ‘Vulindlela’ was the first crossover song from a South African female artist at that level in America, so a lot of people resonate [with] it.”

Banele explains that the idea first came about on the day they did the first Balcony Mix at Diplo’s house. When they tried to think of a South African song that could resonate with Americans, it immediately came to mind. “So we sampled it on that day in studio with Diplo and it sounded amazing; and we even actually played it on Balcony Mix there. Everyone was loving it so we said we need to make an official remix,” he says.

“The [reception has] been amazing, the crossover has been lovely. The point of the album is being achieved, and when I say point of the album I mean to crossover and get more people overseas listening to amapiano. The streaming numbers are amazing. You know, Major Lazer have a big, big following so it’s just a win-win and we’re just so happy that we could do the collaboration with such great features as well on it.”

Working with Ty Dolla $ign

One of the headline-grabbing features on the album is with RnB star Ty Dolla $ign, who features twice on the album. That was an experience Bandile describes as “amazing”. He says: “Ty Dolla $ign really loves amapiano and he’s an RnB sensation from L.A so you know amapiano with singers, it just comes together. It’s just that there’s not a lot of RnB English vocals on amapiano, but he did it, so he’s one of the pioneers of it. I’m very happy he did it because a lot of people are hitting us up to do more features. He sat on it very well – if you listen to ‘Oh Yeah’, and even ‘Smoking and Drinking’, it’s a very L.A song.”

It’s super exciting, especially the fact that people call us Balconeers instead of Major League, so people know Balcony Mix more than they know us.

Ever eager to set the benchmark, last year Major League Djz broke the world record for the longest DJ set performed by a duo, performing for 75 hours at a special edition of the Balcony Mix experience in Johannesburg last year. As they enter a new chapter and seek to expand the platform, Banele shares his excitement about watching Balcony Mix’s continued growth across the world.

“It’s super exciting, especially the fact that people call us Balconeers instead of Major League, so people know Balcony Mix more than they know us. They know us but sometimes they also call us the Balcony Mix guys, they don’t even call us by our names, so it’s quite crazy. We’re trying to continue with the Balcony Mix experiences and make sure that we build outside.”

Understand Africa's tomorrow... today

We believe that Africa is poorly represented, and badly under-estimated. Beyond the vast opportunity manifest in African markets, we highlight people who make a difference; leaders turning the tide, youth driving change, and an indefatigable business community. That is what we believe will change the continent, and that is what we report on. With hard-hitting investigations, innovative analysis and deep dives into countries and sectors, The Africa Report delivers the insight you need.