2019 was the year of the yanos.
Amapiano, South Africa's new dominant electronic music movement, oozes through mobile and car speakers, sound rigs and shopping mall PA systems throughout the country.
Amapiano borrows from the music that's been popular in South African townships for decades: kwaito, jazz and house are just some of its raw ingredients. Started in Pretoria, SA's administrative capital, the rising genre is a sophisticated hybrid of deep house, jazz and lounge music characterized by synths, airy pads and wide basslines. What each producer does with these is as much evolution as it is chemistry.
The word "amapiano" translated to English is "pianos." It merges an isiZulu plural article (ama) with an English noun (piano). Hundreds of new amapiano songs are released through messaging apps and free file-sharing sites every day. Few become popular, a handful become anthemic and even fewer become ubiquitous, as they're heard ringing out at countless clubs and parties across South Africa.
Read ahead for The Best Amapiano Songs of 2019. Listed in no particular order.
Kaygee Daking x Bizizi 'Kokota Piano'
Amapiano does not play, iyakokota (it knocks). The kick drum in most songs bumps with a breathtaking force. It's the drums and percussions that catch and hypnotize the listener first, as can be heard in this highlight from Kaygee Daking and Bizizi. "Kokota Piano" uses the insider slang to introduce amapiano to a bigger audience.
Kabza De Small feat. Leehleza 'Umshove'
"Umshove" is one in a string of hits coming out of producer Kabza de Small and vocalist Leehleza's collaborations. In his chorus, Leehleza references lyrics sung by Lebo Mathosa on the popular Boom Shaka song "Gcwala," which was released during the golden era of kwaito in the '90s.
De Mthuda 'Shesha Geza'
On "Shesha Geza," vocalist Njelic tries to convince his partner to get ready for a party quickly over a beat by De Mthuda. This combination of pining and hedonism have become dominant themes in the lyrics of the amapiano songs that have gained major underground and mainstream popularity.
Zero12Finest feat. Thamagnificent2 'Baby are you Coming?'
Mamelodi, a township at the outskirts of South Africa's administrative capital city, Pretoria, has been instrumental in the direction of the amapiano movement. "Baby are you Coming?" uses Mamelodi slang and a double entendre over a beat that borrows from diBacardi, a genre of South African house music which also owes its popularity to townships surrounding Pretoria.
DJ Sumbody 'Ngwana Daddy' feat. Kwesta, Thebe, Vettys & Vaal Nation
DJ Sumbody is an artist, promoter and record label owner showing Pretoria-based artists how to find commercial success with their heavily kwaito and diBacardi-influenced brand of amapiano. Featuring kwaito legend Thebe on "Ngwana Daddy" alongside big names like Kwesta is as much a business decision as it is a musical one.
Semi Tee feat. Miano, Kammu Dee 'Labantwana Ama Uber'
"Labantwana Ama Uber" has been at the centre of a debate about the influence amapiano lyrics have on young South Africans. Reheating and serving similar arguments previously used against hip-hop, metal and other genres, some argue that this song, which talks about young women ingesting substances through their noses, encourages drug. Fortunately, music history floors this argument.
Jobe London & Mphow69 feat. Kamo Manje 'Sukendleleni'
The shakers and percussion in the introduction to "Sukendleleni" are a masterful depiction of the rhythm and pace of South African townships and the music emanating from them. Jobe London, Mphow69 and Kamo Manje's timing od introducing new elements to the composition is nearly flawless, holding the groove until the last possible moment before a number of breaks.
Samthing Soweto feat. Sha Sha, DJ Maphorisa & Kabza De Small 'Akulaleki'
Kabza de Small and DJ Maphorisa's Scorpion Kings is the opus of their amapiano collaborations. It was clear from the EP's first drop that they had hit a sweet spot between the genre's underground roots and a commercial music industry sensibility. "Akulaleki" is Samthing Soweto's most successful amapiano foray, in which he croons over an instrumental that knocks but makes room for his vocal prowess.
Mphow_69 & ThackzinDj feat/ Killer Kau 'Ama'International (Ufunani eSandton)'
The word "amapiano" translated to English is "pianos." It merges an isiZulu plural article (ama) with an English noun (piano). Pronouncing the genre's name lays bare one's distance from or proximity to the townships where it was birthed and continues to thrive. "Ama'International (Ufunani eSandton)" talks about the futile aspiration to leave the township for more affluent suburbs like Johannesburg's Sandton.
Zing Master feat. Plee & Jusca, Mabozza, Letuna 'Empa Nna'
The social context in which amapiano has flourished in South Africa, especially in its townships, is highlighted on "Empa Nna." Comparing themselves to other, more successful or gifted people, the vocalists lament their lot in life. The sound, which in many ways represents an escape for young South Africans, is drawn into tongue-in-cheek social commentary here from Zing Master, Plee & Jusca, Mabozza, and Letuna.