south african music amapiano bacardi house

Blaqnick & Masterblaq, Mellow & Sleazy and Focalistic.

(Images courtesy of the artists)

Bacardi House-Tinged Amapiano Is Setting the Streets Ablaze

We break down the influence of Pretoria's Bacardi house sound on a new wave of amapiano hits.

Think of the first amapiano song you ever heard. Chances are that whatever track introduced you to the genre doesn’t sound like the latest you’ve heard from it. Perhaps that’s one of amapiano's greatest strengths, or what sets it apart from other music genres: its constant mutation and evolution, especially within short periods of time.

While the debatable birthplace of the genre often points to townships in Johannesburg, many enthusiasts argue and rather mention those of Pretoria. Before these conflicting remarks, however, there was a sound uncontestedly birthed in the city now known as Tshwane. During the 2000s, artists and DJs/producers such as DJ Mujava , DJ Spoko , House Station, Mzo Bullet, and others pioneered Bacardi house and what was commonly known as “sgubhu saPitori” with songs such as "Township Funk," "Tobetsa," "Casablanca" and "Mugwanti."

Due to these aforementioned, era-defining hits, many mainstream amapiano artists, particularly those that come from Pretoria have cited Mujava as their inspiration. Focalistic , who is always vocal about the influence bacardi house has in his music, declared in an interview with French publication Pan African Music , “we are the children of Mujava.” The opening track to his 2021 EP President Ya Straata is a heartwarming ode to the genre, aptly titled Barcardi Ke Religion (which translates to “bacardi is a religion”). On " 16 Days No Sleep ," from the same EP, Foca borrows the refrain “ vele vele vele vele / vele vele vele vele, pash pash pash pash pash / masubelele o ke patje o mo wete / o ke leGogo le le sharp ” from an underground bacardi hit . The song also interpolates the bassline of DJ Nyiko ’s "Sweety Ngwago Ke Busy," another beloved bacardi hit.

Similarly, DJ Dadaman (of Team Skorokoro fame) revived the popular " Miami (You’ve Got The Power)" by slowing it down and incorporating the log drum, giving it a 2021 face lift for his song of the same name . A growing trend within some recent amapiano hits.

Dj Mujava - Township Funk

In Mokowe productions’ Mzongkonko Amapiano Music Documentary , Shuffle Muzik (one half of Team Mosha) mentions jazz, kwaito and bacardi as the building blocks of amapiano. Acts such as Team Mosha, Pencil & Zing Master and Team Skorokoro were “pushing piano“ pre-2019 — before it became fashionable to do so in the mainstream. However, they are often overlooked and omitted in conversations, mainly because their sound was unique, raw and stylistically had traces of bacardi, which as a genre also sometimes suffered from the same prejudice on the national scale.

“When bacardi was introduced in the hood, it captured excessive celebration spirits in the ears of the people,” shares Blaqnick, of the Atteridgeville-bred duo Blaqnick & MasterBlaq, the architects behind the hits Whistling Man, La Mezcla (B&M Revisit) and Khuza Gogo . “Back then, when bacardi was the genre, it had its own unique lifestyle. Clubs, taverns, gatherings, and events were dominated by the genre so extensively. Memories were created back then. The dance moves were fire. Peoples' adrenalines were fired up whenever they heard bacardi playing.”

The once popular bacardi house sound has been experiencing a renaissance through amapiano. This second coming, and fusion of the two genres started showing its face to the earth in mid-2021 on songs such as the recently officially released (but leaked) hit track " Trust Fund " from DJ Maphorisa (& Madumane), Kabza De Small, Focalistic a nd the late Mpura , produced by Mellow & Sleazy.

“There’s ‘new age bacardi’ that the young producers are doing, by blending it with elements of piano,” shared DJ Maphorisa , during his intimate conversation with Kabza De Small, for Black Crowns’ Crowning Moment . “Even the tempo has been slowed down. The old bacardi used to be around 120/122 bpm, and the new iteration sits at 113/112. Pretorian producers have merged the two sounds; they’re using signature bacardi snares and hi-hats,” the super-producer continues

Production duo Mellow & Sleaz y have been spearheads, and are leading the pack. The Tshwane-natives — who hail from the townships of Ga-Rankuwa and Soshanguve — grew up being surrounded by the gritty, distorted sounds of bacardi house blasting through the speakers of neighbours or from jukeboxes of nearby taverns. The sound is therefore authentic and comes natural to them. Sleazy supported this notion when he confessed, “it’s not that difficult to mix bacardi and piano because it’s almost the same thing,” during an episode of Oskido ’s Joy Ride YouTube show.

“Rekere, nkwari, you can choose what you call it,” Sleazy revealed in a video for Boiler Room and Ballantine’s True Music Deconstructed series, after Robot Boii tells them that they almost have their own [sub]genre of ‘piano. “I don’t know how this sound was created, but it’s a sound from Pretoria. It’s that particular sound. If you come from Pretoria, you know that sound. You hear it and then you lose your morals, you just go crazy.”

In the clip, the duo breaks down how their smash 2021 hit "Bopha" came out. The song, which employs their signature hybrid style, has proven to be a success as it has achieved platinum selling status. Another track of theirs, the Ch’cco-assisted viral hit "Nkao Tempela" has amassed millions of streams. However, when the song dropped in November 2021, social media was split between loving it, and confusion — mainly because of its unorthodox approach and style. Many defenders of the song attributed the hate to people not understanding Sepitori (Pretorian lingo) and Pitori culture and sound. During that time, Mellow & Sleazy even tweeted, “Nkao Tempela is basically a bacardi track with a hip hop broer trapping on it.” The “ ko morago / ko morago / ko morago / hayi ko morago ” lyric in the song’s intro references yet another old school Pretorian track , DJ Strongbow’s "Ko Morago."

Before Mellow & Sleazy popularised the hybrid style, Blaqnick & MasterBlaq had already been experimenting with the sound. Like many ‘piano producers, they often collaborate with other artists who are on the same wavelength as them. In September 2021, they all teamed up on "Berete." As the originators Blaqnick & MasterBlaq continues to champion the wave on tracks like "Top 7," "Underdogs" and "Sgija Vs Bacardi," from the latest offering The Amazing World of B&M . For them it is important to include hints of bacardi in their music because, “we know that people from our hood love bacardi since way back, we then decided to add its alluring elements, to encompass our people so they'd not feel left out.”

Myztro , who calls Soshanguve his home, is another producer exploring the sound. His debut EP 031 Nkwari , released under Maphorisa’s New Money Gang Records, includes the song "Rekere," which has Felo Le Tee and Mellow & Sleazy as collaborators. The song’s catchy hook is inspired by DJ Hu Nose’ 2000s hit Voroso ke Voroso .

“Because I come from a township in Pretoria, I’m trying to make this new sound of bacardi, by blending it with amapiano,” expressed Myztro during an episode of Sportscene’s Weekend Turn Up . “So I am trying to bring artists like Vusi Ma R5 and Phindi Maphendula to blend in because their bacardi is raw, so we want to fuse it with a bit of amapiano.”

True to his word, 031 Nkwari features contemporary bacardi act Enny Man Da Guitar, a nd Zulu Naja (the vocalist most notably known for "Voroso Ke Voroso," BOP’s "Naja" and DJ Cleo’s "Ndiya Ndiya"). Burgeoning acts ShaunMusiq and F Teearse also make production assists on the EP, and continuously work closely with Myztro. The duo first made waves with "Nkwari 2.0 (Pheli2Mams)" — which interpolates Candy Master’s " Pheli To Mams ." They have gone on to work with personalities such as Robot Boii ("Salary Salary"), Shaun Stylist ("Oskae Feya Fatshe") and of course, Mellow & Sleazy, amongst others. Like "Nkao Tempela," Robot Boii’s Salary Salary has gone viral on TikTok, with many users of the app joining in to learn the dance soundtracked by the bacardi-fueled song.

When describing bacardi in the 2015-released documentary Future Sound of Mzansi , DJ Spoko shared, “it has a little bit of house and the drumming is different from other music. It has our local style of drumming”. Almost two decades later, it’s these locally-brewed drums, along with its signature wobbly bassline, that have creeped into ‘piano.

“When we first introduced bacardi [into amapiano], our plan was to encompass people, right?” rhetorics Blaqnick. “But the other main reason was to showcase what our neighbourhood had developed through music. We as the Generation Z hit makers saw how important this genre was to our people and how jovial or rather rousing this genre was to our people in the hood.”