Written by: Sam Roy
What is a ‘yano’? It is the slang term used in reference to those who make Amapiano music, and the millions who get enjoy listening and dancing to it. I am a certified yano.
The Amapiano genre has been a long time in the making, and since the phenomenon has arrived, has clearly permeated the consciousness of millions.
So, where did Amapiano come from?
Well for me, it goes all the way back to the early 80’s, when, as a club DJ in SA, I would play the popular dance-floor fillers by artistes like Sipho ‘Hotstix’ Mabuse (Burn Out), Brenda Fasie (Weekend Special), Yvonne Chaka Chaka (I’m in love with the DJ) and Chicco (I need some money).
(Of-course, it must be remembered, that at the time SA was steeped in Apartheid, so the dance-floor fillers were decidedly different on the ‘other’ side of town.)
These artistes paved the way then for groups like TKZ, who were amongst the leaders and hit-makers of the Kwaito sound, as it permeated our dance-floors, through the 90’s. Famously, Bennie McCarthy, football pro, appeared on their massive hit Shibobo. I still remember, how the various dances emerged for the different songs. In fact, Mafikizolo’s Ndihambanawe, still gets people up and doing the Bartman (or similar) at weddings.
Afro-house, emerged out of Kwaito, and retained popularity through the 2000s, and in the early 2010s came Gqom.
With Gqom , there was a clear indication that the dark, fast, and electronic South African sound, had crossed the oceans. A typical example is Beyonce’s “My Power,” featuring South African acts Busiswa, Moonchild Sanelly, and DJ Lag.
Gqom was still very popular in 2018, and while it retained popularity in the years that followed, by early 2019, amapiano had taken over South African radio and clubs.
In July 2021, in a Rolling Stone interview, Busiswa, South African house superstar whose discography spans the subgenres gqom, kwaito, and amapiano, said, “I think it’s the first time a genre of ours dominates our own airplay more than international songs.”
In reality though, Amapiano had already started to infiltrate the South African historically black townships— in 2016. It spread rapidly and organically through WhatsApp and ride-shares, spawning its own evolution and subgenres.
Busiswa, also said to Rolling Stone, “It’s almost like it’s the heartbeat of the youth at the moment.”
Dj Maphorisa, Amapiano afficianado explains the different types of the genre, “There’s jazzy piano where it’s just an instrumental or we have soulful Amapiano with voices. And there’s this one we call tech piano, like techno, with claps and snaps.”
As most Amapiano isn’t sung in English, it can be a stumbling-block to global recognition. Maphorisa says that the South African market for Amapiano, can be put off by English in local music as it appears ‘hoity’. He is looking to incorporate a bit more English into his music to reach the international market. He says, “You don’t have to use it much, as long as the person can understand you’re talking about love or heartbreak.”
Even though Maphorisa is often thought of as bringing Amapiano into the mainstream, he followed the path lit by pioneers like DJ Stokie, Junior Taurus, MFR Souls, Mr JazziQ and Josiah De Disciple, and Kabza De Small.
Maphorisa credits Kabza, a 28-year-old DJ and producer from Pretoria, with being one of the first acts to lay vocals atop amapiano beats. As a solo artist, Kabza has been the most-streamed local musician on Spotify South Africa for the past two years.
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So it is clear that Amapiano is huge in South Africa, but it HAS transcended borders. According to Rolling Stone’s magazine, on TikTok, the #amapiano hashtag stands at more than 570 million views. Shares of global streams on the AmaPianoGrooves playlist on Spotify have increased 116% globally over the past year; the increase in the U.S. is 75 percent.
The stats speak for themselves. Infectious, Rhythmic, and at time almost subliminal, Amapiano will creep into your soul.
I’m infected. My favorite at the moment is Ed Sheeran’s Bad Habits amapiano mix by DJ Kooldrink. And, if you need some audio proof, go to any of the music sites or platforms like Itunes, Spotify or TikTok, search ‘Amapiano’, and become a ‘Yano’ too.