When Wizkid released Bad To Me, a sneak peek into his more Love, Less Ego album, the single was received with mixed reactions. While the artist received praise from fans, some camps criticised the artist’s decision to dabble in the current wave of “Omopiano”, a Nigerianised version of the Amapiano genre. Naturally, the discourse quickly went from Wizkids genre-bending foray to the question of who did it first, and how Amapiano found itself in Nigeria.
In 2020, while the pandemic was in full swing, people turned to the internet for a sense of community. Social media platforms like TikTok, Instagram, and Twitter experienced a content overload with videos of a catchy new sound making rounds on the internet. Dominated by loud log drums, trailing piano solos, and accompanied by smoothly executed dance steps, the sound was Amapiano, Zulu for “the pianos.”
Amapiano is a blend of various genres, including Kwaito, traditional percussion, local South African house music that ruled the airways of the nineties, and jazz-inflicted piano/synth lines. According to Legendary producer and Kwaito pioneer Oskido, Kwaito music links to the foundation of Amapiano. On BBC’s This Is Amapiano documentary, he notes that at its core, the sound shares the same slowed-down house music beats as Kwaito.
Although the popularity of Amapiano is undisputed, its origins remain questioned. Amapiano music dates back to 2012, with its birthplace resting in different “townships” due to the genre’s unexpected emergence. Soweto, Alexandra, and Katlehong are recognised as the Amapiano powerhouses in Johannesburg, while Soshanguve, Atteridgeville, and Mamelodi control the wave in Pretoria. Amapiano’s diverse influences come together to create a nostalgic sound with distinct cultural elements that protect its trajectory from being overly dependent on the media.
While it is unclear who really is the mastermind behind the genre, MFR Souls, the DJ and producer duo from Katlehong played instrumental roles in shaping the sound, including renaming the genre – Amapiano was earlier referred to as “Number” or “iNumber” before the keys became important in the duo’s compositions. MFR Souls with Kabza De Small in Pretoria and JazziDisciples from Alexandra built the original framework; experimentation which included productions of veteran deep house mixed with Kwaito. DJ Stokie, aka the Superman of South Africa, was also key to the genre’s growth as he was one of the first DJs to begin playing the sound and is responsible for popularising Amapiano in Soweto.
As Amapiano’s popularity grew, the genre began to make its way out of South Africa and into the world, with artists like DJ Maphorisa and Kabza De Small leading the cause. In 2020, DJ Maphorisa and Kabza De Small released Sponono, an Amapiano track featuring Wizkid and Burna Boy. Wizkid also featured on Kabza De Smalls Need You Tonight in 2020, while in 2021, Focalistic collaborated with Davido for the remix of Ke Star, his 2020 hit. Since its emergence in Nigeria, Amapiano has shed its element of preparation, subbing its long, dramatic, and melodic intros for precise execution of infectious lyrics backed by log drums. Several Nigerian artists have begun riding the modified Amapiano/Omopiano waves making it the in-genre currently on the Nigerian scene.
While Amapiano’s entry into the Nigerian music scene began in late 2019 to early 2020, interpolations of the house music genre have since existed. Ninola, who describes her sound as Afro-house, had experimented with house music as far back as 2017 with the Sarz-produced hit track, Maradona. In a recent interview with Cool FM, the singer broke down her genre of music, explaining how Afro-house gives her experimental freedom and clarifying that her sound is not necessarily Amapiano.
In a recent Twitter clip, DJ Maphorisa revealed Wizkid “put him on to Amapiano” after hearing the sound at a party they both attended in South Africa. According to Maphorisa, before Wizkid caught the sound, Amapiano was underground, and most people paid no attention to it. Right now, DJ Maphorisa is at the forefront of the global Amapiano takeover, which puts him in the best position to declare how the sound made its way here.
“Wizkid put me on Amapiano sound”
– DJ Maphorisa
— BASITO (@itzbasito) September 14, 2022
However, when DJ Maphorisa replied to a tweet that claimed Davido brought Amapiano to Nigeria with a contrary opinion, it did not go down well with Davido. Maphorisas’ comment was considered a personal attack by Davido, who claimed Maphorisa never liked him, implying that the DJ was being dishonest, even though he never actually spelled out whether or not Amapiano’s emergence in Nigeria was his doing.
Mister MayD also laid claim to the introduction of Amapiano in the Nigerian music scene pulling his 2017 collaboration with Oskido Get Down as evidence. According to MayD, he was responsible for more than just Amapiano coming to Nigeria, maintaining that he pioneered collaborations between Nigerian and South African artists. Mayorkun, who remained significantly silent throughout the conversation, was also roped in, with fans claiming he jumped on the Amapiano sound on his 2020 hit song Of Lagos.
At first glance, the conversation about who did Amapiano first in Nigeria may seem insignificant, but the relevance of documentation, especially in the music industry cannot be overstated. African music bears a fluidity that allows genres to fade into each other, blurring their identity. Afrobeats and all its variations, for instance, are distinguished by minute differences that may or may not be caught by one who is unfamiliar with Nigerian music. As African music continues to transcend borders and we witness mergers like the Afrobeats and Amapiano situation, it is important that we remember the origins of these different African music genres. African music extends beyond just entertainment into a solid source of identity and to prevent misrepresentation, we should assume the responsibility of writing the narratives ourselves.