Amapiano Roundtable: This Summer's Defining Sound

Amapiano Roundtable: This Summer's Defining Sound

Donae'O, Supa D, and Pioneer explore the sound, and it's possibilities...

2020 may have managed to turn all clubs and music venues into ghost-towns overnight, but it undoubtedly struggled to disrupt the buzz and anticipation surrounding Amapiano. Originating from the Guateng province, Pretoria, the South African sound is transcending across the globe with its invigorating melodies and baselines. Situating itself at a slower tempo, around 110-116BPM, the genre pulls influence from jazz, house, and preceding regional genres like kwaito. Most importantly of all, it’s a music for the people that rises above struggle and reigns in versatility.

In the UK, it’s tracks like ‘King & Queen’ that landed Amapiano on everybody’s radar, with an excitement that now echoes the rise of UK funky. Whether it be through Supa D’s label HouSupa, Pioneer’s weekly radio show on KISSTORY or Donae’O’s infectious beats and vocals, it’s indeed of no surprise that the same figures that ignited the 2006 sound are pushing the South African genre.

Taking new directions through their production and further striving for a longevity and quality that perhaps felt absent in their earlier conquests, Clash sat down with Supa D, Donae’O and Pioneer to delve deeper into the genre’s history, influences and origin.

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To kick things off: As established tastemakers, what makes amapiano so appealing to UK crowds and what would you say ignited this?

Supa D: I’d say it’s appealing because it sounds like it’s for us aswell. It’s got that vibe init, it’s got that vibe from the funky days and it just fits. Bass lines and melody, that’s what we like over here and that’s what it’s got and it works.

Pioneer: Yeah, I would say it’s exactly what Supa said, it fits. It’s basically what we was into anyway but the more it’s come on us, in a more slow and a more intelligent form and it works perfectly with what we do.

Donae’O: I’d say it’s like Black dance music, for me. It’s very similar because British culture has always had rave music and British Black music has always had their version of that whether it be jungle, garage, bassline, funky and as much as this is South African house, I can understand why our culture has taken to it so much.

Supa D: Yeah, our culture definitely. The heavy bassline, for starters, that’s the main element to why - we love a bass line. And the drum patterns, the happy melodies, that’s what we like. Before the bassline comes in, the drum beat and the melody, that’s what holds them and then when the bass line comes in, it just tops it off.

Pioneer: Yeah, definitely. And the tempo makes it more universal aswell. It’s abit slower than some of the tempos that have been out before, where some people have said “ah it’s abit of noise” or “it’s abit too much for me with the bassline or garage or jungle” - this kind of sits in between. Any age group can appreciate the tempo of it and you feel it when it drops.

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Donae’O: It makes a big difference. When you’re producing it at that tempo, it’s almost like the groove is better, you can hear every sound better.

Pioneer: You can feel it more.

Donae’O: Yeah.

Supa D: My ears are trained to it, now everything else sounds fast.

Pioneer: Yeah, I’m making tunes at 115 now and that used to be mad slow.

Do you remember what tracks were perhaps an entry point to amapiano and do you remember how they made you feel when you first heard them?

Donae’O: My first entry point to it was ‘King & Queen’, and then watching them. I feel like Rambo still sounded, to me anyway, similar to UK funky, whereas ‘King & Queen’…I can see where people get similarities but it’s not the same thing, it’s completely different like the way the production is, the tempo of it, the way the vocal comes in, how the snares are used.

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Supa D: I think, for me, it was like right at the beginning of January 2018. I wanted to do an event called Afrotized, I think that’s where the tunes… it started blowing up more. The Afro-House night and all that underground Afro-House stuff like, there was a couple tracks we played from Kismet, played a couple, a couple that were big straight away, got a reaction straight away and then from then, more and more kept on coming and that’s where it was introduced.

We introduced it to people, people didn’t know what it was then, they said: rah what’s this tune, what’s this what’s this?

Pioneer: That’s all it was.

Would you say that the buzz around amapiano right now is perhaps reminiscent of what you felt when UK Funky House was on the rise and do you feel there’s a crossover between the two in terms of its appeal - particularly amongst younger crowds?

Donae’O: I feel like lots of people your age have said this to me, with amapiano, we can actually rave to this now.

Supa D: What’s happening now aswell, because it’s been around for so many years, see people your age, 21 and that, we’ve been playing to their parents so they’ve been brought up in that household with that music. So, sometimes you’ll go to an event and it might be 22, 24, 25 and they know about a tune from ages ago because their older brother, sister, mums and dads and they’re there to continue the journey.

Pioneer: Yeah, that’s it. It’s like the culture’s changed. Me growing up, I wouldn’t have to listen to no House music, or my mum and dad wasn’t listening to house music - it was reggae or whatever. It would have been soul or rare grooves. So now, the culture has changed where I feel that a lot of, as you said, people your age are listening to house as kids, house and garage. They’re growing up as house and garage babies, growing into this so yeah, it’s like second nature to you. In terms of comparing it to UK funky, I can see the similarity in terms of the excitement of it because it’s new music.

When we used to play, it wasn’t just all UK funky, we would play stuff from across the globe so we’d be mixing, as we said, we broke the rules. We’d just play whatever works so we’d play something from Masters At Work, then we’d play something from Charisma then you might have something from Geeneus then we might have something from DJ Naughty - it just blended.

What’s happening now is we’ve mixed amapiano, and not just straight, one hour always of amapiano, it might be mixed with afro-house, you know, slowed down a touch, that works perfectly because it’s still coming from the same root and people are just excited to hear new tunes. That’s the best thing, when you can go somewhere and play something new and nobody knows it but there’s an excitement and a buzz about it. 

There is a sense that UK funky died out fairly quickly and there are numerous reasons as to why this could be. Looking forward, do you think Amapiano, because it’s a big scene, that it could avoid those setbacks and achieve longevity?

Supa D: For me, the quality and the gimmicks. There weren’t enough quality and then it started getting too gimmicky for me. That’s my opinion.

Pioneer: Quality, definitely.

Supa D: Basically, we don’t want a repeat of that now. People are starting to come with things and you can see people are trying to dabble, the same sort of people. Everyone wants to try dabble again but now, we have to keep it separate. 

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Pioneer: Ultimately what happened is it was a new era of people that got on to it. So when we first started we were playing to like people like, I don’t know, you know like those kind of events, the Red Carpets and stuff like that, Hackney Central, House Warming and stuff like that… yeah.

Supa D: With an older crowd.

Pioneer: Yeah, and then we were playing at all these freshers parties.

Donae’O: I want to add to that right, I think this version of British black dance music, I don’t think we’ll see the gimmicks again. Mainly because music is such a massive part of British culture, way before anything else. If we get youngsters that jump on this, they’re going to be kids that really believe in music and making music whereas back in our day, everybody wasn’t really a music man.

A lot of guys were just on the road, trying to come off the road, and they saw an easy way to come out. Whereas the kids now, let’s say if the kids were on the street now, they are still phenomenal artists I think personally, it’s only going to get bigger and better. Even the rappers that are going to jump on it, you could probably sit down with them and be like “bruv, I get you’re talking about that over there but we might need a spirituality record over here” and a lot of these guys will… they want to bust out of their typical lyrics anyway.

So I think the artists today are definitely way more musical than they were beforehand and I don’t even think they would want to hear, now, a skank tune. I think they’re be like mmm…

Supa D: From this quality, you can’t stop good music. There’s quality coming and it’s getting played in the mainstream yeah, there’s a bright future for it. I reckon more big artists are going to start jumping on it. With the label, I’m just trying to put a platform there for the up and coming producers and artists, just to get their music out there basically. If it’s of quality, then I’m all ears and I’m there for it.

Pioneer: When I started Kiss 13 years ago, everyone wanted to play a bit of funky. Now I’m getting Kiss DJ’s messaging me, asking about amapiano, where do I get my amapiano from and I explain to them it’s like a global sound, alot of it is from South Africa. You see the stations are starting to implement more afro, not maybe just amapiano but just afro in general into their timetables now.

Donae’O: The thing is what UK funky didn’t have that everyone has now is the DSP’s, the digital platforms, the Spotify’s, the Apple Music, the Amazon and all that. So now, people, if they want to hear a song they don’t have to go to the underground club or try and find the next rave tape.

Since 2016, all the newer scenes that have been made, have not died and you’re starting to see some old scenes are being re-hatched like grime was re-hatched. Afro-Swing was created, drill was created but these scenes aren’t dying, they’re just here for life. They don’t seem to have an expiry date. I feel like funky is probably the last out of the old scenes that the younger generation has taken and been like “I want this to come into what we’re doing” and I think they’ve done that with amapiano.

Those two things, I think because of Spotify and because of how the younger generation deal with music, Amapiano is going to get massive, like, humongous. I think when the clubs open, you’re going to see a massive rush. Right now, say our ting’s on 40%, it’s going to go right up to 80, 90% in the first two weeks.

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Words: Ana Lamond

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