Amapiano’s Second Wave: How kwaito opened the door for amapiano’s evolutions


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Now, amapiano is well into its second wave. Producers like Thabza Tee, Ice Beats Slide, Thuto The Human, TheBoyTapes, DrummerRTee924, Jay Music, Sizwe Nineteen, Mcdeez Fboy, Vibekulture SA, City King RSA and many, many more are pioneering subgenres that fall under a broadening amapiano umbrella, like sgija, bique, bacardi and quantum sound, as well as their own individual styles. But younger artists and producers are not necessarily getting the credit, recognition and financial reward they deserve.

Kooldrink candidly tells me he’s not truly part of the South African amapiano culture that spawns these subgenres. Because of the relatively privileged way he and Tyla grew up, Kooldrink explains, they are removed from amapiano’s origins. “An amapiano producer,” Kooldrink says, “is most likely a kid who grew up in a township, listening to kwaito.”

You can’t really understand amapiano’s roots without knowing about kwaito (pronounced “kwy-to” with a short “o” sound). In a simple sense, kwaito is a highly syncopated, slower form of house music that incorporates South African languages and percussion sounds. But kwaito is also understood as an embodiment of the post-apartheid era. It’s not just a national variant of house music, it’s a unique cultural form shaped by the structure of townships and Black South African experience. This is what amapiano arises from.

In his book Kwaito’s Promise, Gavin Steingo details the origins of kwaito in apartheid South Africa. In an effort to convince the world and itself that Black South Africans were “simple, rural, tribal people,” the government tried to stop Black South Africans from hearing music from overseas. While the government blocked international radio frequencies, the South African Broadcasting Company (SABC), would only play music that fit its definitions of “tribal” styles related to regional ethnic groups.

Before the end of apartheid in 1994, to hear inaccessible international music, Steingo writes, “was to hear beyond apartheid and thus to hear freedom”. When international electronic music first slipped through the regime’s sonic embargo, it was experienced as “a spatial outside signalling a future beyond the present of apartheid segregation and international isolation”. House music in the 1980s, produced by Black people in the US and almost impossible to access in apartheid SA, embodied this otherworldly, futuristic freedom and became intensely popular when it reached townships.

Written by: Tim Hopkins

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