Pretoria has always been treated like the step-cousin in the South African popular culture space. The one who you hear from – once in a while – but pay no attention to.
That is why for so many, the rise of amapiano as a genre and Pretoria as musical capital was meteoric, and came as something akin to a shock.
But the devil is in the detail. Amapiano is a sub-genre that has been percolating beneath the surface of Pretoria’s psychedelic House music scene for the better part of the decade.
This year amapiano, with its jagged lyrical bent, went from a niche, city-wide scene to the forefront of the pop culture. But beyond causing mosh pits and skewing faces all around the country, what you might not see is how sonically different the artists working in the genre are.
Amapiano’s breakaway from the repetitive phrasing often associated with township House music is a game-changer. Verses structured like hooks are often the real meat and potatoes that sustain the music and never let the groove feel like it has a down moment.
Here, the rules are not sacred and the present-active nature of the genre is its most appealing asset. Amapiano’s omnipresence is the antidote for a city just thawing from a long history of cultural isolation. Unlike previous popular incarnations of South African House music such as tribal and gqom, it is not exclusively a young person’s game. Most producers, singers and songwriters we’ve come to associate with this sound are accidental heroes on their third or fourth roll of the dice as far as this music thing is concerned.
They are second and third generation musicians with the city’s rich jazz history running through their veins. The multi-generational nature of amapiano has made the genre a surprising yet organic meeting ground of these worlds.
The likes of Kabza De Small, Leehleza and the JazziDisciples are building a new, more energised musical identity and future for a city too often branded as the home of paranoid rapper merchants such as A-Reece and Blaklez, with slick mouths.
They seem to know all the angles.
But the appeal of amapiano stretches beyond the goodwill the forerunners of the genre have built for themselves. The truth is, its success is because the quality of the music and Pretoria’s competitive spirit have created an impetus to compete within the confines of key-based House music.
Amapiano has done with keyboards what gqom promised to do with drums and never really delivered.