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Thursday, February 22, 2024

The Race for Amapiano

On July 20, 1969, American Astronaut Neil Armstrong made the first steps on the moon, one giant leap for mankind and in essence ending the space race between America and the then Soviet Union, a race that had begun earlier in the mid-1950s.

This era would inspire a new age of space exploration, society, culture, art, film and even music. Music precisely felt its influence via artists like Frank Sinatra, David Bowie, Sir Elton John, Queen, Michael Jackson, Ariana Grande, Doja Cat and a host of others, who made music, videos or material about space.


Ariana Grande

Music is a dynamic aspect of art. It has the capabilities of having a huge imprint on people, culture and art. It’s quite a competitive element of art, genres like hip-hop, pop, country, r&b, rock and afrobeats are witnesses to this fact. It would seem that there is a new kid on the block, creating a paradigm shift in the culture and causing a sort of race among the heavy hitters in the African music industry. This genre is called Amapiano and now every big shot wants to be the pioneer or the first to do it.

Amapiano has been a force to reckon with in the Nigerian music industry over the past two years with great hits like Of Lagos, e-wallet, Sponono, Ke Star, Champion Sound, Yaba Buluku, Monalisa, Ameno Amapiano Remix and a host of others as testaments to its significance to the culture. But what is Amapiano really and how it originated? Amapiano translated in the Zulu language simply means ‘the piano(s)’ in English.


According to Wikipedia, it is a style of house music that emerged in South Africa in 2012. It is a hybrid of deep house, jazz and lounge music characterized by synths, airy pads and wide percussive basslines. This sound came from the streets of South Africa, enjoying great influences from Kwaito and an important element of the genre is the use of the “log drum”, a wide percussive bassline.

Nigerian artists are egoistic, self-absorbed and narcissistic by nature. They love to lay claims to creating a genre or sound that they feel they solely curated which in actuality they did not as it takes a lot to create a genre or sound of music. I guess they want to be like James Brown, MC Frontalot or our very own music legend Fela Kuti a true pacesetter and a personality that has been evaluated to demigod status in the Nigerian music industry.


Fela Kuti

The reason why Fela Kuti is venerated in the Nigerian music industry is that he went the extra mile beyond the fundamentals to create Afrobeat and thanks to his deep background in music, he scaled through with this innovation which is a combination of jazz, highlife, funk, soul with a focus on chanted vocals, complex intersecting, rhythms and percussions.

So, when Nigerian artists realize that they cannot be the ones to create a new genre or sound of music. The next best thing is to claim to be the one that popularized a genre or brought it to Nigeria and this current heat for Amapiano is no different from what we have seen in times past, from the craze for American hip-hop, Makossa madness, the Azonto fiesta, the Banku bliss, the Pon-pon banter and now the Amapiano race.

Recently, South African DJ, DJ Maphorisa, unwittingly ignited an Amapiano feud by responding to a music fan who claimed that Davido had exported the Amapiano sound from South Africa to the rest of the globe. The fan also mentioned Wizkid’s ‘Bad To Me’, asserting that the singer jumped on the Amapiano wave after Davido’s success with the sound, citing Davido as a sound pioneer whom other artists have looked up to over the years. DJ Maphorisa, on the other hand, was not having any of it and responded to the tweet and corrected the fan by stating that his ‘Sponono’ record with Kabza De Small, which featured Wizkid and Burna Boy, was released three years ago, making them the first to have them on an Amapiano record.

Truly, Sponono was the first time the two artists performed Amapiano, and it was the second of four collaborations between the two Nigerian music greats. Davido wasted no time in responding to DJ Maphorisa, certifying that DJ Maphorisa never liked him, this further escalated the whole situation. However, other music creators, namely May D and Kiddominant, have claimed to be the pioneers of Amapiano in Nigeria. If e shock you, e shock me too kai.

Artists are in a way responsible for these raves in the music scene, for instance, the first Nigerian act to drop an Amapiano hit song in Nigeria was Mayorkun the banger ‘Of Lagos’ blew to great strides. The funny thing is that he stayed out of this melee and much respect to the Mayor of Lagos. People love music, but a vast majority don’t know the genres of music including top musical acts in the industry and this lack of knowledge clearly showed in the way this went down on social media. Fans greatly contributed to this clash of musical titans, as many were just fighting for their faves with little or no regard for the facts which is the one true currency in all conversations.

There needs to be a clear distinction between what is and what is not about a genre of music in any given musical conversation because many fans and musicians are ignorant of what differentiates a sound of music from another. According to Motolani Alake, the managing editor of Pulse, ‘Amapiano does have roots in House and Jazz – hence the snares and psychedelic mid-tempo sonics. The bass can be of Kwaito origins. Let’s say all Amapiano can be House, but not all House is Amapiano. It’s like saying Afrobeat is Jazz because it has Jazz influences.’


May D

May D should in my opinion reevaluate his assertions and set the records straight as I did not see the need for him to be involved in this conversation or maybe he wanted to just get some buzz for himself. Please egbon, not everything from South Africa is Amapiano. I believe you deserve your roses for your efforts in being among the first to collaborate with South African acts. But what you need to know is that what you did then was house music with great Kwaito influences, not Amapiano. If it is any consolation to you, your works kind of in a way help with the creation of the genre. So please take note egbon.

Davido you are a superstar whose influence can be seen in Nigeria, Africa and beyond. But you need to control your outbursts on social media, stop responding to every tom, dick and harry on the bird app bro, you are a global brand gosh. You don’t need to assert your dominance on all things, you are blessed already, you can’t save or have everything (I believe OBO has a superhero complex, I might be wrong on this though), call your crazy fans or should I say stans to order from time to time and lastly double down all I just stated bro.

DJs should be given their due honours as they are the ones with their ears to the ground and they help to popularize any new hot genre or sound of music. Please respect the DJs they are doing the most guys.

The struggle for the first to do it in this day and age cannot be clearly defined, it is just the one that becomes a major hit that takes it in most cases and the ones that focused heavily on it take claims for popularizing or adapting a sound or genre of music. As no single artiste can claim credit for bringing Amapiano to Nigeria, localisation does not equate to creation. How genres emerge in any given industry takes a lot of collective effort and time.

We great Nigerians should stop laying claims to what did not originate in Nigeria. We need to pay our respects to those worthy and work on creating unique sounds for ourselves that we can be proud of as a nation. We can instead rep the fact of serving as a launching pad, that helped to push the Amapiano sound to the rest of the world.

There needs to be a reorientation of what makes a genre of music unique, we all need adequate knowledge of music, musicians need to do their homework in their craft, they need to call their stans to order when the rifts get bloody and fans need to understand the music industry in all its glory.



Finally, this genre of music has great potential and it has the prospects of becoming one of the major genres of music in the world. According to South African rapper Focalistic, ‘It is a proud moment, it is a moment that kind of validates all that we have been fighting for and at the same time says that Black child it is your time.’

It is Amapiano to the world, a force of freedom, dance, unity and spiritual energy. It is the sound of a young South African, it belongs to the townships and the dance floors and now I dare say the world is watching.

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Solomon Obi
Solomon Obi
Solomon Obi is a writer and content creator. He loves sharing his innate thoughts on Nigerian pop culture. His hobbies include reading and movies. We all are on a voyage of discovery to unearth the never-ending infinite of knowledge.

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