Essentials: NTS captures the vibrancy & experimentation of ‘Amapiano Now’
Essentials: NTS captures the vibrancy & experimentation of ‘Amapiano Now’

Essentials: NTS captures the vibrancy & experimentation of ‘Amapiano Now’

Featuring tracks from Vigro Deep, DBN Gogo, Kamo Mphela & much more

Over the past year, Amapiano has been in unstoppable motion, connecting with ears, feet and minds way beyond its initial origins, despite a global pandemic. This is nothing short of exceptional and speaks to the genre’s growing commercial viability. Originating in the Gauteng province in the early to mid-2010s, the Dance subgenre captured the hearts and feet of young South Africans across local townships in the ensuing years, eventually spilling into the mainstream in 2019.

Dancefloors shuttered early last year, but what could’ve been a negatively disruptive factor has become the awe-inspiring context for a sound that is now the toast of the entire African continent. Late last month, a UK-based online radio station and music exposé hub NTS released Amapiano Now’, a compilation project dedicated to capturing the essence of the increasingly chic sound. It’s one of the latest events that play into the budding global attention Amapiano is now receiving, with particular attention to what’s made—and is making—the style of music captivating.

At the moment, many Nigerians are still coming to terms with the fact that Nigeria can’t own Amapiano, and non-African publications are covering it as an exotic, about-to-trend sound when it is actually a culturally significant phenomenon indelibly tied with the originating country’s history. All factors considered, though, NTS’ Amapiano Now’ is applaudably assiduous, as it offers a finely executed crash course into South Africa’s township sound. Comprising well over two dozen contributors, the project is curated to give listeners a glare into Amapiano’s multiple sonic dimensions, stuffing as many stylistic quirks as possible into a sprawling run-time.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by NTS Radio (@nts_radio)

Whether you’re already deeply enamoured or barely familiar—or even entirely clueless—with the sound, there’s a long list of thrills and surprises to justify the near two hours Amapiano Now’ demands. Known for its mash-up of Kwaito’s wide basslines, diBacardi percussion, jazzy keys and airy pads, the foundational elements of Amapiano are recognisable and constantly dance-ready, but what’s made it riveting is the wild creative energy coursing through its arteries. That’s what NTS’ compilation champions, the myriad of ways Amapiano artists are taking those aforementioned elements and moulding them into inventive, yet familiar, output that keeps listeners grooving—and can keep them musically engaged on a more intellectual, soulful level.

At times, the project listens like a purist’s collection of the scene’s experimental essence, as it does on the glitchy and disruptive verve of Teno Afrika’s “Power Station.” At other points, the focus is on its irresistible suitability for the club, like the sleek thump of MachiinaSA’s “James Bond.” It’s very fitting, especially for a genre that consistently spawns really huge songs without a particular musical formula or audience preference for what becomes big. There can be skulking instrumentals like MDU aka TRP’s “16 Inch” or hulking organs like those on Vigro Deep’s “Untold Stories”; and if you want vocals, there can be sublime and soulful cuts like Scorpion Kings’ “Nana Thula” or riotous ones like Major League Djz and Abidoza’s “Le Plane E’Landile.”

Perhaps the clearest pop moment is its second pre-release single, “Possible,” an instant shoulder-twister that splits the difference between lush and groovy, with infectious vocal melodies to match. Helmed alongside Musa Keys, and with four other contributors, the song clearly builds on the previously established chemistry of DBN Gogo—one of the few female Amapiano DJ/producers—alongside Dinho. A significant portion of the project finds already familiar artists working together: “Sip Sip,” Alfa Kat and TidoSoul continue along the lines of the brassy style found in their recent joint project, Moya; Gaba Cannal, one of the very first producers to make Amapiano, combine with frequent collaborator E_Clips Mzansi on the anthemic lead single, “Shona Le.”

With the artists making the music how they usually would, it’s clear NTS simply focused on selecting songs and making them fit within their broader vision, which is quite refreshing because the case is often that most curators of urban Afropop compilations want to put together what’s hot. Freed from the mission of trying to curate a “bangers only” project, Amapiano Now’ is successful in its roaming ethos. The transitions are rarely clean, from a strict album or loose DJ set-list standpoint, but that’s a minor gripe when the results are impressive from an explorative perspective.

In fact, there’s a pretty neat juxtaposition motif in the middle of the compilation that benefits from this freewheeling arrangement. On “Mswapheni,” MaWhoo chants in a trippy cadence over a clanging beat, meanwhile the immediate “Thula Thula” sees Kamo Mphela in typically vibrant mode, effortlessly exerting herself over rumbling log drums. They serve as fractional examples of the infinite amount of ways vocalists interact with Amapiano beats, much in the same way its producers employ instruments. Vigro Deep’s “Groove” and Unlimited Soul “Utlwa” both cradle the intersection between jazzy, techy and folksy, but next to each other the difference in approach is proclaimed, with seamless production that is incredibly layered and deeply profound.

It might seem trite to say Amapiano has unlimited range, but NTS’ latest compilation serves as reinforcement of the genre’s longevity and it’s fertile presence in the current sonic landscape. In today’s industry, there’s a lot to be said about genres and honouring the places where they emanate from, and NTS’ ‘Amapiano Now’ definitely pays homage to the past and present over 17 exciting new tracks.

Listen to Amapiano Now’ here.

@dennisadepeter is a staff writer at the NATIVE.