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Compilation of the Month: Various Artists ‘Amapiano Now’

NTS Radio, Shannen SP and Joe Cotch compile essential tracks that capture the unique and unifying sound of amapiano, South Africa’s world-conquering dance music style

With artists and fans from around the globe proclaiming “Amapiano to the world”, this evolving new genre has defied expectations that it’s just another passing trend in South African dance music. The spread of amapiano globally is picked up on in this stellar new compilation, ‘Amapiano Now’.  Co-curated by Hyperdub-affiliated club night Ø’s Shannen SP, NTS Radio’s creative director Samuel Strang and Cotch International’s Joe Cotch, these 17, hand-picked tracks capture the unifying and unique sound of amapiano right now.

Taking its name from the Zulu phrase meaning “the pianos”, amapiano (or ‘piano) has gone through many mutations since it began in South African townships less than a decade ago, from sweet, deep house-leaning tracks, to bounding Bacardi-driven beats. Many recent fans have come to the genre through a specific sound, known locally as “dust”; this sound dominates the compilation, with a gritty, kwaito-infused style, all dark and urgent. Across the 17 tracks, the subject matter is contemporary to South African life: talk of hard lockdowns, police hotlines, power outages and the pursuit of money is interspersed with clever puns and messages of ease, fun and fervour.

The aptly named first track — ‘Super Star’, by ‘piano staple Caltonic SA — is a perfect introduction. One of the shortest tracks, it’s also the most addictive, with an invitation of handclaps and raspy, isiZulu vocals beg- ging for a loop. DBN GOGO, one of the first women to produce amapiano and earn the scene’s respect through her jocular attitude and unflappable poise on stage, appears twice on the compilation — and for good reason, her tracks keeping you locked in until the very last snare.

Although amapiano is very much a male-dominated genre, the compilation shows the disproportionate ratio slowly shifting, as more women come to the fore. Kamo Mphela [pictured above] is proof of this, with her cutting ‘Thula Thula’ (“quiet, quiet”) far from hush-inducing, while Mawhoo is quite literally right on the money, with a list of essentials ready for the groove. Alfa Kat and Tido are thirsty on ‘Sip Sip’, while Teno Afrika’s percussive, glitchy waveforms fluctuate as often as South Africa’s power supplies.

Vigro Deep is peaking in the scene right now, spurred on by the release of his ‘Baby Boy 4’ album, and his track ‘Groove’ is an imagina- tive one, seasoned with dramatic piano solos true to the genre’s origins. King Jazz and Unlimited Soul relive amapiano’s earliest flavours on ‘Lockdown’ and ‘Utlwa’ (“hear”) and Entity Musiq’s ‘10111’ — a reference to South Africa’s emergency services phone number — borders on criminal. Amapiano loves to play with wider pop culture references; the self-proclaimed prodigal son from Pretoria, Machiina SA, delivers in the form of ‘James Bond’. The Vusinator rounds off our sonic journey with celebratory ululations.

Five years ago, few could have predicted the attention that amapiano and its creators would get, with the addition of lyrics, new percussives and social commentary. And in five years from now, who knows what the genre will sound and feel like? While NTS Radio and its curators search for its next personalities, one can only hope that more amapiano enthusiasts will make a home abroad for this prized and proudly South African music, and that innovative producers will continue to evolve the genre in new and exciting directions.

Want more? Read about how independent radio has thrived during the pandemic here 

Shiba Melissa Mazaza is a journalist and curator. You can find her on Twitter @iamshiba