Best New Music Special: Asake’s “Peace Be Unto You” + CKay’s “Watawi”
Amapiano is the gift that keeps giving to Nigerian pop
Amapiano is the gift that keeps giving to Nigerian pop
Amapiano is Africa’s champion sound, an in-the-moment dance subgenre that consistently proves transcendental. What initially started as an experiment by a handful of DJs and producers in townships across South Africa’s Guateng province, has evolved into a singular wellspring of sonic inventiveness. While its given name translates to “the Pianos,” the Yanos’ most distinct element is its log drum, giving it an indelible percussive identity even as it travels through different forms of interpretations across the continent.
Of course, Nigerian pop isn’t exempt from Afropop’s general co-opting of Amapiano elements, especially its log drums. Within months of Kabza De Small and DJ Maphorisa lifting the subgenre’s commercial ceiling in South Africa with Scorpion Kings, Nigerian artists and producers were already cribbing and, in some cases, refitting ‘Piano to the ears of Nigerian listeners. Today, a large portion of Nigerian pop is based on and inspired by the Yanos, and, thankfully, the output is a mix of remarkably Nigerian translations and collaborative efforts with key players from the sound’s point of origin—none of that outright ownership BS.
Our Best New Music picks for this week highlight these different approaches to Amapiano-based Nigerian pop slappers. YBNL’s latest wunderkind Asake continues his breakout tear with “Peace Be Unto You (PBUY),” and global superstar CKay taps Davido, Focalistic and Abidoza for “Watawi.” Both songs, released within a day of each other, exemplify Amapiano as the gift that keeps on giving, as a now indispensable part of Nigerian pop and a viable bridge between two powerhouse countries in Afropop.
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Two weeks before its official release, Asake previewed his latest single in almost its entirety. Naturally, that set off a chain of reactions, to snippets as a tool for music promotion and, perhaps a little more immediate, the singer’s now established preference for ‘Piano-inspired production. As soon as the trailer for the song’s video made its way to social media, several twitter users shared screenshots of Shazam identifying the then-unreleased track as “Sungba (Remix),” possibly implying that Asake is a one-trick pony.
As much as it makes sense to assess “PBUY” within the context of Asake’s biggest songs, there’s enough uniqueness between these seemingly analogous cuts. For comparison sake, “Omo Ope” mainly used log drums as percussive embellishments, the emphasis of “Sungba” is on its low end and speaker-rattling vibe, Spinall’s beat for “Palazzo” is spare and psychedelic, while “PBUY” is easily more flamboyant than its log drum-reliant predecessors.
Even with similar tempo, you don’t even need to listen too closely to hear the clear difference in percussion pattern, and trusted producer Magicsticks enters a delightfully complex melodic bag, pulling out cherubic piano chords, synth riffs, violin samples, and even whistles. Fittingly, Asake turns in some of his best writing till date. Co-written with YBNL boss Olamide, “PBUY” is rooted in Asake’s unvarnished sense of self-assurance, a lot of that honed from his years as a burgeoning performer.
“I just blow but I know my set/before them use me I go use my sense,” he strikingly offers on the bridge. The chorus, as is now expected of an Asake song, is instantly memorably, a thrilling stack of spiritually-informed lines where he rhymes “make I know lose” with an interpolation of a pioneering Nigerian pop song. In typical form, Asake’s performance on the verses is vibrant, but it’s on the chorus that his raspy voice hits a soulful crescendo, marking “PBUY” as another awe-inspiring entry into the canon of great Asake songs.
If you didn’t know much about CKay prior to 2021, you’d think his rise was meteoric. In a sense, it was. Many songs go viral on TikTok after all, but “Love Nwantiti” is in that one percent that eclipses momentary virality and becomes a cultural touchstone. Two years after release, and about a year after the video for its Joeboy and Kuami Eugene-assisted remix premiered, CKay was right in the middle of Nigerian pop’s surging presence stateside.
If he’s feeling any of the expectant pressures foisted on global superstars, CKay isn’t really showing it. The singer ended his dream year with two singles, “By Your Side” with South African hybrid rap artist Blxckie, and “Emiliana,” the brilliant, if slightly contrived, successor to his breakout mega hit. Both songs did a dual job of reinforcing the core tenets of CKay’s sound—emotive lyricism, lilting melodies—and expanding the boundaries of his artistry. The Blxckie-assisted single especially, which starts off on a downtempo, deep house note before switching to a cut bearing the hallmarks of Kwaito’s influence on Amapiano.
“Watawi,” CKay’s new single, continues his ‘Piano explorations. The singer reunites with “La La” co-star Davido, who also reunites with two-time collaborator, Focalistic. Helmed by respected South African producer Abidoza, his instrumental arrangement echoes the excellence of the several soulful ‘Piano classics he’s produced, from “Dinaledi” to “Siyathandana.” Here, he puts together a lush and groovy soundscape, shifting around elements to fit the vocalists’ tenor, keeping the music spare for CKay’s verse, infusing airy piano string riffs underneath Davido’s gentle rasp, and ratcheting up the percussive intensity to match Focalistic’s animated rap verse.
Together, the trio turn in a cumulatively dynamic and enthralling performance, putting in formidable shifts over a sparkling beat. All three play the role of noncommittal romantic partners, finding varying angles of approach, from CKay’s charm to Davido’s brashness and Focalistic’s preference for banal flashiness. “Watawi” plays into the ‘Boyfriend’ identity CKay heavily leans on, but with a different type of edge. There’s a different type of emotional honesty on the song and, more importantly, it leads to gleaming results.