The 20 Best Amapiano Songs of 2020
The 20 best amapiano songs of 2020 from Kabza De Small, Kamo Mphela, Vigro Deep, Rema, DBN Gogo and more.
For two consecutive years, amapiano powerhouse and frontrunner Kabza De Small is the most streamed South African artist on Spotify by South African audiences across all genres. Amapiano's popularity keeps growing, not only in South Africa but in some parts of the continent and the rest of the world. Nigerian artists have been incorporating the genre into their own music.
Not even the pandemic could stall the pace of the movement's growth. The year saw lots of amapiano hits and projects by the likes of Scorpion Kings, Vigro Deep, Busiswa, MFR Souls and many others. The biggest songs in South Africa at the moment are prevalently amapiano.
Below we round up our picks of the best amapiano songs of 2020 listed in no particular order.
Kabza De Small featuring Wizkid, Burna Boy, Cassper Nyovest, Madumane “Sponono”
One of Kabza De Small's most successful singles this year was "Sponono" off his mammoth 27-track album I am the King of Amapiano: Sweet and Dust. In amapiano slang, sweet describes the melodic version of amapiano and dust, its unpolished twin. Stamping his global footprint, the collaboration with Nigerian artists Wizkid and Burna Boy on "Sponono" further exposed Kabza De Small's music to international audiences.
MFR Souls featuring Major League Djz, Kamo Mphela, Bontle Smith “Amamanikiniki”
The producing and DJ-ing duo from Katlehong, a township Johannesburg's eastern outskirts, has been instrumental in the growth of amapiano from when it was an underground movement with only a core following of committed punters. Following the success of their single "Love You Tonight" featuring DJ Maphorisa, Sha Sha ad Kabza De Small, "Amanikiniki" became a hit, thanks largely to Kamo Mphela's vocal feature and popularity as a dancer and social media personality. The song gained even more popularity with the release of an accompanying music video in which Mphela is front and centre.
Mapara a Jazz (featuring Ntosh Gazi & Colano) “John Vuli Gate”
Maano Maphwe and Tshepiso Malatji who are collectively known as Mapara a Jazz had their first burst of recognition in 2020 with their single "Corona" released at the onset of the national lockdown. Their second single of the year, "John Vuli Gate", became a social media sensation when five women made and posted a video of themselves emulating a dance move previously posted by the artists. In sound and topic, the song's closest comparison is last year's #Phoyisa social media trend which spawned the eponymous hit by DJ Maphorisa & Kabza de Small featuring Qwestakufet and Cassper Nyovest.
Vigro Deep featuring Focalistic “Blue Monday”
Vigro Deep's ascent to prominence in South African music and his growing popularity abroad have largely been because of his consistent hit making ability. On his project, Rise of a Baby Boy, "Blue Monday" featuring rapper Focalistic has done best on digital streaming platforms and at groove. More than an assertion of dominance, this project showed that the flagbearer for a particular style of amapiano originating from Pitori can diversify his sound.
Kabza De Small featuring Daliwonga “iLog Drum”
"iLog Drum" strikes the balance between the sweet melodic amapiano and the unpolished dust variant without sounding forced. In recent times, Kabza De Small's sound has emphasised melodies in voice and keys over drum and bass arrangements which, at times, sound repetitive or recycled. Interestingly, Daliwonga who has appeared on a number of Kabza De Small and Maphorisa's productions uses a vocal style very similar to Samthing Soweto, another one of the two producers' hit making collaborators. "iLog Drum" proves that the producer who was one of the movement's trailblazers, and is now at the forefront of amapiano's global presence, is capable of artistic feats that have placed him rightfully at the movement's helm.
Tyler ICU & Nicole Elocin featuring Kabza De Small, DJ Maphorisa “Bella Ciao”
In 2020, Tyler ICU went from relative obscurity to releasing one of the strongest amapiano singles of the year and securing collaborations which have set his path for expanding his audience. "Bella Ciao" is an amapiano rendition of an Italian protest folk song used as the theme song for TV series Money Heist. The song's smooth vocals contrast with its kwaito-influenced instrumental to make it simultaneously catchy, satisfying and addictive.
Busiswa featuring Kamo Mphela “SBWL”
An amapiano song with female artists behind it and an almost purely female cast for its video is, unfortunately, still a rare occurrence. Established artist Busiswa features star of the moment, dancer and vocalist Kamo Mphela, on a track and in a video which is in some ways a celebration of happy black women. The track's title is derived from a social media trend "sbwl" (a stylised version of the Xhosa word "sabaweli" which roughly expresses desire or craving for something) that has become common parlance in South Africa.
The Lowkeys “Stolen Goods”
Pitori East amapiano trio, The Lowkeys, were set for a bumper year after the release of their Main Sound of Pitori project in 2019. With the lockdown, they resorted to television, radio and live streams to market their 2020 release "Stolen Goods". On it, The Lowkeys expand on their distinctly Pitori amapiano sound, only with the percussion and drums making room for other elements, like ethereal piano chords and solos, to breathe. A sign of artistic growth.
Caltonic SA featuring Sje Konka “Bambelela”
Twenty-year old Elias Shitlhangu says that he started producing electronic music in 2017, making tribal and commercial house as well as gqom when he started. He soon realised amapiano's popularity and has taken to the movement, offering an uncanny ability to programme soul stirring drums and percussions, but also making space for vocalists to soften his sound on some songs. The title of his project Terminator (Half Man Half Machine can only mean striking a balance between electronic instrumentation and the vocal human element, a balance CaltonicSA is still striving to reach.
Soa Mattrix & Soulful G ft. Shaun 101 “Uthando”
The melodic chorus, keys and pop arrangement of "Uthando" have made it a popular singalong. The drums and bass in it are, in a signature Soa Mattrix style, toned down to make space for the top elements to drive the song. Released in the second half of the year, the single has made names for both Soa Mattrix and Soulful G. There is an element of Afro-pop to "Uthando" which makes it accessible to listeners both in and outside the amapiano fold. Speaking to all ages and demographics is especially important when, usually, the summer period it was released in sees family members of different ages and ilks gather for festivities.
DBN Gogo & Dinho featuring Felo Le Tee, Hi Levelz, Optimist Music ZA “French Kiss”
DJing and producing duo Mandisa Radebe and Tiego Motau have had different journeys to the places they currently occupy in South African music. Radebe was born in Kwamashu township on the outskirts of Durban city and moved to Pitori where she began to explore a career in music. She started DJ-ing in 2017 and has since become known for her song "Mayonice" released in 2019. Tiego Motau is most known firstly for his annual festival, Dinho Café held in Mamelodi on 26 December and secondly for his DJ-ing as one of the established artists in Pitori. Their seven-track collaborative project, Thokoza Café is mostly deep house influenced and "French Kiss" is the strongest single on it.
De Mthuda & Njelic ft. Mkeys “Ebumnandini”
One of the early stars of amapiano, producer and DJ De Mthuda, enlisted the falsetto singing Njelic on "Ebumnandini". Released early in 2020, the song's piano melody has a salsa feel that creates the base for Njelic's harmonising and call-and-response. This song hits the sweet spot with its steady groove and catchy vocals.
Gaba Cannal ft. Zelous, Gwinsi “Abalele”
The two projects Gaba Cannal has released this year, Great I Am and Statements, are solid offerings that offer quality production, a considerate use of amapiano arrangements while imbuing the work with deeply emotional and spiritual undercurrents. This tightrope between dance music, emotion and the soul is demonstrated best on "Abalele", which could be a call to wake up for groove or a call on ancestors (abalele) to rise.
Vigro Deep featuring Mhawkeys “Piano King”
The regency of amapiano is rightfully contested. The cover art for Rise of a Baby Boy, the 19-track project by the 19 year-old producer, shows a child on a throne flanked by two lions and the project's final track is titled "Piano King". This last instrumental on the project has forceful drum arrangements, punchy organ and guitar solos and melodies building to crashing breaks.
Reece Madlisa and Zuma ft. Mr JazziQ, Busta 929 “Sithi Sithi”
"Sithi Sithi" has become popular at groove in the short space of time since the national lockdown was lifted. The song's lyrics are about suspected witchcraft, describing a suspected perpetrator who flies around naked. The tribal house-influenced, hi hat and shaker-driven rhythm could have easily been a mismatch for the lyrics delivered in a kwaito style. It's Zuma's vocal ability, sitting on the beat while punctuating the high points in the instrumental which creates synergy.
Major League DJz & Abidoza ft. Cassper Nyovest, Kammu Dee & Ma Lemon “Le Plane E'Landile”
A fitting soundtrack for the epicurean festive season in South Africa, Major League DJz and Abadozia's collaboration carries the spirit of celebration in it, with the chorus' lyrics and song title being about a plane that has landed. Alongside the DJ duo, Abidozia showcases his producing talent with the haunting basslines and upbeat drum arrangements synchronised masterfully with samples popular with amapiano producers making rare and timely appearances.
Divine Ikubor released "Woman" in the same period as other Nigerian artists (notably Niniola and Mayorkun) who have been experimenting with the amapiano sound released their offerings. "Woman" stands out for its having matched the energies that amapiano and Afrobeat bring with haunting melodic samples in the background of tight drums and percussion. In Nigeria, the song has gained acclaim as a forerunner of future amapiano music to come from the West African country. This might help open the sound to interpretations from elsewhere.
DJ Neptune, Joeboy & Mr Eazi featuring Focalistic “Nobody”
When the DJ Neptune-produced song "Nobody" was released, it quickly made charts in Nigeria. The amapiano remix featuring Focalistic was released soon after. On it, the bassline especially gives an edgier feel to the catchy verses and chorus. This year saw a number of Nigerian artists and producers releasing amapiano remixes of their songs, sometimes with delightful outcomes like "Dangerous Love" remixed by De Mthuda and DJ Ganyani and DeMogul separately. This strategy could benefit artists on the continent and elsewhere in future.
Focalistic featuring Vigro Deep “Vrr Pha”
Longtime friends and musical collaborators Focalistic rarely miss hit status for songs they create and release together. "Vrrr Pha" is set to continue the trend, being the lyricist's main singles off his latest project Sghubu Ses Excellent. Based on an onomatopoeic slang phrase of a car which makes a loud popping sound when it accelerates, the song sees Focalistic play with the theme of pre-party goings-on, much like "Shesha" which preceded it.
Reece Madlisa & Zuma ft. Mr JazziQ & Busta 929 “JazziDisciples (Zlele)”
Reece Madlisa and Zuma have not slowed down the growing popularity of "Zlele", perhaps fuelling it was the lifted lockdown which saw events recommence recently. Recent releases by the Reece Madlisa and Zuma duo have been deep in the pocket of amapiano songs made for groove. This one is no different, except for the kwaito influence on the instrumental.
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