2021 will go down as the UK’s summer of amapiano. While the Southern African community was already working its way through Major League DJz, DJ Maphorisa and Kabza De Small’s back catalogue, UK ravers were only just getting turned on to the theatrics of the sound. The spacious intros and melodic log drum that mark the genre brought a skank to the dancefloor not seen since the heights of funky.
TikTok challenges and other choreographed dance videos did the rounds, imbuing the sound with a visible culture for all the world to see. Being a vocally-driven genre didn’t hurt things either.
“Amapiano events are packed out,” Lebo tells us. “Now a lot of Afro house DJs are playing amapiano — they’ve all kind of switched — there’s literally only a few of us still playing Afro house these days.”
While amapiano and Afro house have two distinct scenes in South Africa, you’d be hard pushed to find a solely-Afro house night in the UK. In fact, most Afro house events we visited had at least one amapiano DJ — and the difference on the dancefloor was clear to see. “The pandemic played a massive role,” Lebo explains. “Every few days there was a new song, and in the UK there was a new popular song every week.”
Silk believes there are lessons to be learned from the amapiano explosion. “Producers should concentrate on becoming an artist, that’s the difference with the amapiano guys. When they’ve got a track they market it, do a video, do press and only then go on to the next track. We don’t.”
It’s a point that Saint seems to share. “Dance music doesn’t have the same kind of campaign as we do in the other genres where we are prominent. That’s what leaves us behind in the dance world. That’s what I love about Black Coffee — he would always do a video for everything he released.”
Most of the UK labels that emerged in the first wave of the UK Afro house scene are still here today, but a relative newcomer is Bushman’s WeAreiDyll. Inspired by Kombo and Kitty’s success, the DJ set up his imprint in 2018 with hopes of bringing a jazz and European-infused take on Afro deep tech.
“People like Sef and Atjazz pay homage to where the sound came from. I want to follow that and show the same respect, but add my taste to it,” he says.
WeAreiDyll relies on a small team, including T.O.N.E.S founder Trekkah and Optimistic Soul. In many ways, it has managed to crystallise the lessons learned from the first wave. From early on, Bushman placed a huge emphasis on quality control. Every demo that comes his way has to tick four boxes before he green lights it for release.
“The four boxes are: one, does it represent the label and does it come with a detailed description on how they came to produce the track? Two, what’s the artist been doing prior to a release? Do you put in the work yourself as an artist? Three, can this track be played across multiple events and on radio? If it’s not radio friendly, can it be made radio friendly? Four, is their social media up to date? Can they be managed effectively?”
It’s an approach that seems to work; WeAreiDyll releases are on heavy rotation in Black Coffee, Shimza and Kid Fonque sets.
“I don’t think I’ve ever had a release that has not charted on Traxsource or Beatport,” he tells us with pride. “And that’s due to the four points and our due diligence.”