Whether you’re scratching your head or already in the know, Amapiano is the South African genre that’s getting London crowds back on their feet. Channel 4 news reporter (and UD friend) Jasmine Dotiwala schools us on the who, what and why…
UD: We’re really pleased you did the Channel 4 segment on Amapiano as there’s such a buzz around it but not everyone’s heard of this incredible music yet…
Jasmine: One of the reasons I’m really fascinated with the music genres that come out of Africa is cause my dad was Kenyan. He used to talk a lot about Miriam Makeba and when I think about Amapiano and Afrobeats – the fact that it’s blown up – and it’s sung in indigenous languages… When I’ve been out to the music awards in Namibia, I’ve loved the fact that they’re so proud of their culture and don’t feel the need to sing in English. A lot of the international music artists that I’ve worked with, even when English isn’t their first language, have felt it necessary to create music in the English language, and I think that’s the thing that fascinates me more – these artists are proud, openly embracing their South African language, dance and culture.
UD: How did the piece come about?
Jasmine: I was invited to an empowerment cocktails party for some young Black women in a very fancy hotel bar on a London rooftop. During the night the DJ Mercedes Benson was playing some incredible tunes and then suddenly a whole different set started. The vibe and the energy of the room just changed, everyone got up and started dancing and vibing in a different way that I’ve never seen before. To me it was exciting and just incredible to see a whole new genre – a whole new dance style- a whole new energy, the routines… You know I’ve always been part of the culture where you can look at a new dance and it’s pretty easy to pick up, but this really wasn’t, it was incredibly intricate, you had to have natural flair and style to get with it, and I was just obsessed. After I witnessed the rooftop party it was Danai Mavunga and her Afro Paradise team who then invited me to join them on the bus for the day and speak to Major League DJz
UD: So you were hooked from the off?
Jasmine: One of my friends, Taponeswa, started telling me about the movement in South Africa and some of the festivals that are coming over to Europe… I suddenly went down a rabbit hole on YouTube looking at playlists. Then I got to meet two of the DJs at the GRM Gala at the V&A and asked them how long they were here for. They told me a few weeks, and then I was like “well, let’s do something…” So that’s how the Channel 4 piece came about.
UD: Why is Amapiano so special?
Jasmine: The thing I see when it comes to Amapiano as a music genre is that it’s captured the current new young generation and brought them back to the love of house and dance music in a way that is new and interesting, juxtaposed with local cultures in Africa… Amapiano also reminds me of hip-hop culture, in that originally the music was criticised and dismissed as inferior by the usual radio gatekeepers out in South Africa and the genre blew up without that traditional radio and media support. So the music didn’t grow through the usual music channels. It grew through WhatsApp and YouTube and then the commercial radio stations started playing it. I’m always a champion of rebellious great talent that comes through and bashes the door down even when the gatekeepers in the establishments aren’t feeling it.
UD: Does it draw any other comparisons?
Jasmine: Amapiano also reminds me of grime here in the UK; in the same way that the gatekeepers at record labels and radio stations here didn’t want grime to become a big thing, and it broke through anyway, it feels like Amapiano is the cultural equivalent of that in South Africa. It comes from the local townships, people tried to hold it down, but it still blew up. It kind of proves that you know, privilege might hold back talent for a certain generation in our past, but now for the new generation, with the internet, anything is possible and anyone can get it.
UD: You clearly love and respect this movement…
Jasmine: I love that Amapiano is something that comes from humble beginnings, you know it’s a sound grown from the soil of townships in South Africa. I also love that Netflix has a film called JIVA all about the Amapiano culture and dancing – the viral dances are so difficult to do. I find it really exciting and inspiring and it’s also helped young Black South Africans form their own respected identity, which is incredible – it’s finally the African continent’s time to shine! Interestingly, I never really loved house or dance music but the thing about Amapiano that I think’s captured me is because I’m a dancer – I love melody, I love beats and because it gives us the house and dance music, so much melody, it feels a lot more gentle than hard house… Usually I’d never go to a house music rave where as Amapiano has the things that I love about hip hop culture; melodies, grooves, the dance routines – people recognise the tunes and break into the established dances! That’s exciting for me.
UD: What else do we need to know?
Jasmine: Something that’s really exciting to me is I’ve never seen my American friends and counterparts in the music industry react well to music that comes from outside of America. They’ve often ridiculed British grime or British hip-hop or rap music but now I’m seeing Americans actually talk about Afrobeats, Wizkid, Davido and Amapiano and I think finally Americans have opened up their eyes to what else is out there and know that great music can come from outside of their own continent. The world is getting smaller and more equal conversations are happening that appreciate the local cultures in every country. When I see what Amapiano and Afrobeats has done for the world, I feel excited because it’s created a lasting cultural footprint for South African society but I think it makes the rest of the world sit up and go “if they can do it so can we “… We are seeing incredible music come from so many different continents and countries now. Something I’m really fascinated with at the moment is a young Palestinian called the MC Tamer Nafar. He’s got a tune called ‘The Beat Never Goes Off’ that’s mesmerising me. I love it!
UD: What impact is Amapiano currently having on LDN and beyond…
Jasmine: Throughout history we’ve had so many occasions where Black culture has created a genre and then white culture has made a more palatable version of it, whether that be R&B, dance music, or back to the Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley days… Black culture has never really financially benefited or been given the credit or benefiting and I think now people are finally seeing that and will actually call out anyone who tries to take over their sound. You saw what happened when Jorja Smith tried to do an Amapiano song – there was an immediate fallout online and whilst I didn’t like that for her (because I’m a big fan of hers), I did like the fact that people will rightly saying that if you’re going to do something from South Africa, then we need a nod/ credit, don’t just benefit from it… I think that makes music talent much more powerful these days, they’ve got their own voices.
UD: Anything else that interests you that we should know about?
Jasmine: I’m fascinated by the impact the music has had on social media platforms, especially TikTok – there’s literally more than 100 million views with the Amapiano hashtag. It’s incredible when you think that this is how cultural movements are built today. They grow, pop off and none of the establishment can take this from them. They are artists doing what they do on their own terms. I see the global music industry paying much more serious attention to international talent now than I ever have.