Stepping Stones: The Rise Of Major League DJz

The amapiano kingpins are living the dream...

Amapiano – translated from the Zulu language – simply means ‘The Pianos’ and is widely considered as the genre of South African youth. The infectious sound born out of Kwaito, Amapiano (or just piano as it is often pegged) has undoubtedly taken the world by storm, pioneered by a raft of South African DJs. One duo in particular have driven the sound to new shores, including a history-making Coachella set. Major League DJz, Amawele (twins) Banele and Bandile Mbere have broken ground globally with Amapiano and sat down with Clash ahead of their sold out headline show at O2 Academy Brixton.

The Boston-born South African raised brothers have not lost touch with their heritage at all as they consistently push the new age Kwaito sound. Through their unique and diverse DJing and performance techniques, Major league DJz have opened the door for the future of Amapiano DJ’s internationally, especially those coming out of South Africa. As the infamously designer bro’s arrive to the artist lounge at Atlantic Records, welcomed with a unique Shawna X Ballantines Gift Box, the duo opted for ‘subtle drip’ both adorning black tracksuits, white air forces, Off White and Balenciaga beanies.

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“The music has to be original, it has to resonate with us.”

In hindsight, the road to O2 Academy Brixton for Major League DJz started from a very young age. The twins were both into music and transitioned from playing the piano in their pre-teens to hosting what they describe as “the littest parties” in their teens; the brothers tell me of how they would throw these parties but always looked for DJs until they decided to go at it themselves. Little did they know, that was a decision that would change their lives to come. They continued to build their “lit” party reputation with Major League Gardens which was instrumental in catapulting them to success, to the very well known Balcony mix, the epitome of luxury events that gives its attendees the true VIP experience.

So when asked how the Mbere twins felt approaching the stage at Coachella, it was to no surprise their answer was thorough, thoughtful, and self-critical. “Ahh we felt like there’s still a lot of work to be done, we still have so much to do. We’ll feel the full circle moment.” Delving deeper into the idea of the full circle moment which artists often refer to, the idea of being back where you started, the duo approach the idiom very differently to what I interpret as reaching the point of fulfillment in one’s career. When followed up with the question, what does that full circle look like for you?

The twins mischievously yet confidently respond. “The full circle will be when we have the right features. Adele on speed-dial and Diddy on the call you know. We want the right shows but not just playing them, headlining the shows.” Recognising that the road is still long, Major League DJz display incredible drive and have consistently surpassed each of their goals while remaining humble and cheerful in the face of adversity as they continue. “We need the Queen as well to knight us, that’s the real full circle,” causing laughter to fill the room.

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All jokes aside, to understand the path of Amapiano is to understand the role music has played through South Africa’s history, songs and chants made by the youth during Apartheid as a means to stay united and have ownership over something at a time when they were denied everything else. A history which personally affected Bandile and Bandele whose parents were living in exile in the States. With Amapiano transcending borders, I had the sense that ownership and Ubuntu (Togetherness) in the genre would be very important to the twins.

With the global reception of Amapiano, do you think the genre is transcending or just trending? Major League see the need for more people like them to keep pushing the movement. “I think it’s trending. When it’s taken in fully, it’ll be big, amongst industry people, commercial value goes up,” and in order for the genre to get to that point, the duo describes it as a ripple effect of collaborations from internationally renowned artists, global residency offers and other Amapiano DJs also being accepted like them globally.

Having spoken to the duo for a while now it’s clear the difference between the otherwise hard-to-distinguish twins. Bandile is the bigger public speaker often leading the response whereas Banele brings a more energetic and charismatic side to the conversation. So much so that he asked me a question: when speaking about the Amapiano scene right here in the UK, which has soundtracked so many parties and events across the country, Banele asks: “How do we elevate it even higher?” To which I prompt the twins to go where the crowd, leading Bandile to add: “Collaborating with the people they relate to, whether it’s a Portuguese artist or just the ones in touch with the streets!” Shouting out their London collaborators NSG; “We need the streets.”

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It’s a humbling experience to sit with artists who, despite their current level of success, still seek to see all their audiences around the world as well as artists to collaborate with and haven’t put a ceiling on their potential. Continuing on the topic of collaborations the Major League DJz have added a diverse range of UK talent to their collaborative list and will build on this in their next project with the likes of Mahalia, Tinnie Tempah, Stefflon Don and more to be announced. Nothing short of exciting.

Hoping for an exclusive on any upcoming collaborations I asked the twins, who would you like to collaborate with in the future? To which they both energetically answer: “Justin Bieber, Ed Sheeran… can you imagine Ed on Amapiano! We need him.” Even nicknaming him “Ed Shwee shwee” a play on the UK mega-artist’s last name and the sound typically heard in Amapiano songs.

“We good, we’re coming for them. If Amapiano can be used on Beatport… we’re in. They know us now, these Amapiano guys are not joking.” Not joking indeed: comfortably sitting at No. 1 in the Amapiano Beatport Top 10 with their remix of ‘All Of This’ featuring Jorja Smith the duo not only talk the talk but most definitely walk it as well. Major League DJz are quickly breaking records and leaving their mark in history: the first Amapiano artists to play Coachella, the first Amapiano artists to sign a multi-album deal with an international label and now the first to headline and sell-out an O2 Academy venue. In a sentence, how would you describe Major League’s journey to come? “We’re gonna make the impossible possible,” Banele says. His twin Bandile pauses, then adds: “We’re about to unlock it”.

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Words: Ath’e Zihle

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