Essentials: Kabza De Small reasserts his supremacy with new album, ‘KOA II Part 1’
A stellar sequel to his landmark album
A stellar sequel to his landmark album
The story of Kabza De Small is inextricable from the story of Amapiano’s meteoric surge to global renown, which is probably the most majestic story in African music’s recent history. South Africa’s dance with House music and adjacent genres stretches back to the 90s, but at the turn of the 2010s, a sonic revolution started brewing within the nation’s churning Afro-House scene. Iconoclastic artistes nestled in sprawling townships in and around Gauteng started tinkering about with sounds in search of a new flavour, this culminated in the birth of Amapiano: an inimitable sub-genre of Afro-House music that ropes in an eclectic gamut of sounds, from Deep House to Jazz and Kwaito.
Today, approximately a decade since its birth, the burgeoning sub-genre boasts of being one of the most popular and exhilarating variants of House Music. From its early days, through every cascade and whirlpool, Kabza has been an ever-present pillar and guiding force of the culture. He boasts of being one of the very first artists to layer vocals on an Amapiano beat and his legacy is boldly scrawled on every inch of the sub-genre’s complex tapestry.
The most seditious statement to his hegemony in the sprawling Amapiano scene came in the apogee of the lockdown in 2020, when he released sophomore solo studio album, ‘I Am the King of Amapiano: Sweet & Dust’, a brazen title that wreathed an even more profound claim. The project lived up to its name, breaking all expectations as it became the most popular South African project in Apple Music’s history. He has since become the most-streamed local musician on Spotify South Africa, a record he has held claim to for the past two years. This is the gleaming backdrop against which he served his latest solo headline full length project, ‘KOA II Part 1’.
A sequel to his seminal album, ‘King of Amapiano II’ is a sprawling, undulating ode to Amapiano’s murky past and its lurid expansive future. Traversing from primordial sounds like Kwaito and Gqom, to nascent sounds like Tech piano, he pays homage to the genre’s roots whilst wearing the hat of an explorer charting a new course for the culture. If his previous album, ‘I Am the King of Amapiano: Sweet & Dust’ was an assertion of his position as numero uno in the scene, ‘King of Amapiano II’ is him reclining into his throne and exercising his royal powers.
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For all its inventiveness and dynamism, at its core, the project retains Kabza’s defining sound: his knack for leaning into Soul Music and poignant African Folk sounds. This is a motif that’s snugly woven through every fiber of the album’s dynamic tapestry. The opening trifecta of the project, “Khusela”, “Ingabe” and “Eningi”, typify this in earnest. Roping in thumping African drums, anthemic chants and angelic vocals, he conjures a unique concoction of spiritual sounds. Spiritual is a common term used to describe Amapiano but these three songs and a handful of songs distributed sparsely across the project, evoke a palpable feeling of connection to our ancestors long gone.
For an 18-track album that spans over two hours, there is no boring moment on the project. Every spin feels like a swanky walk up Mount Olympus. Being the seasoned DJ that he is, he ramps up the tempo and ambience as the project progresses, it slowly morphs from the supple soulful sound that flagged it off to a gritty ominous sound that leans into Gqom and Tech Piano. Towards the last lap of the project, Kabza breaks down all barricades and leans into a concoction of experimental sounds.
On “Bayasaba”, he experiments with a stripped down production underpinned by menacingly dark percussion. “Mshini” sees him lean into a suave blend of African percussion and ominous Techno melodies. “Mutserendende” sees him at one of his finest moments, on the record, he bridges the old and the new and inadvertently conjures a sound that serves as a portal to the future of the rapidly mutating genre. Melding Gqom, Soul and Techno, he creates a boisterous otherworldly sonic monolith. It’s in these moments of unbridled experimentation that the maverick clocks some of his finest moments.
For a lengthy album with 18 tracks, it’s interesting that the finest point on the project occurs at the fourth track, “Ubumnandi.” The track, which runs for just above 6 minutes, crystallises the dazzling ethos of the tape. Over erupting percussion and sonorous chanting, Nia Pearl and MDU populate the record with poignant soulful singing. The ambience of the track lies between the soulful aura that flagged off the project and the boisterous flavour that ended it, thereby serving as the anchor point of the luxuriantly majestic tape.
Creating a sequel to a stellar project is always a precarious arc to tread but recording a sequel to a stellar project that heralded your dominance is a morbidly precarious arc to tread. Kabza De Small waltzed into nationwide renown with ‘I Am the King of Amapiano: Sweet & Dust’ but on this new sequel, he pulls a rabbit out of his hat to top his previous zenith, as he stakes new grounds and extends his tentacles out the confines of the nation that birthed him. ‘King of Amapiano II’ is not just a stellar album, it’s the resplendent crescendo of a young maverick who surged from South Africa’s townships to the most magnificent stages in the world. On ‘KOA II Part 1’, Kabza De Small unflinchingly asserts his supremacy.
Listen to ‘KOA ll Part 1’ here.