I was embarrassed the other day when I, a self-confessed music enthusiast, discovered for the first time the existence of an amapiano hit song called Lorch.
It is a song, I discovered after my son demanded it, by the sensational Kabza De Small and DJ Maphorisa featuring Semi Tee, Miano and Kammu Dee. (Don’t worry. My son, when he gets to read this, will correct me if my credits are off the mark.)
Music derives from universal experiences, and so do the many appellations we christen it by. South Africa has a lively music cosmos tenanted by a wide variety of genres and styles. These are important because almost all the time people say, for example, that they like all music except for reggae or gospel or some other genre. And therein lies the thrust.
I have friends in the music industry who are naturally a lot more knowledgeable than me where these things are concerned. However, I think it is safe to point out, having already spoken about Lorch, that amapiano receives its heredities from extractions of music put together and commercialised across townships and in suburbs, if we acknowledge post-1994 migration patterns.
It contains unmistakeable keys that invoke baselines and harmonies which enjoin reminiscences about kwaito and rhythm that situates you in the 1990s if you think of South African House music.
From the above you can see that at times moving and sensuous but almost habitually hedonistic amapiano vibe is decidedly South African in its personality.
Listen to Lorch or Shesha or AmaDM and you will know that it is a sentiment, amapiano.
It is an existence, a drive. It is a quickly developing genre which boldly declares this sentiment, this existence and this drive straight to merrymakers found in the electric township streets and alike to the club scene in the metros.
But this force, this beat that currently defines nightlife conduct, is in and of itself not enough to endure into the future.
I contend that amapiano, a culture that is greater than merely what we hear booming loud across the country, is in fact betrayed by its makers. Through their absence in the intellectual discourse about the past, present and future of the subgenre, they are denying enthusiasts and potential supporters of this subgenre information. This information should make them see amapiano for what it is – a phenomenon far greater than just a beat at times (mis)understood to be a mere flask for profanities.
It is like this subgenre is populated by people whose only place is the studio, and then a music video and that radio interview and a performance, followed if all goes well by that fancy car.
This is dismaying because frankly, the subgenre is not bereft of forward-looking record executives. We can say what we want about it, but in its essence, amapiano is a culture that poses important questions about the mediation of social particularities and the people who construct those particularities.
It is a culture which involves a medley of elements deemed symbolic of the present, in many cases ably packaging them in order to confront society with its own realities – toothsome or otherwise. We are made to dance to our issues. It is a revolution, this thing.
Yet we see across social media spaces a concerted moralising against the subgenre, but the practitioners do not seem persuaded to show us why this moralising is a misrepresentation.
It is my contention that there is a need for practitioners themselves, not just interested parties such as myself and music journalists, to set out to deepen our understanding of the relationship between the popular subgenre and cultural heritage, and in fact to clearly characterise this subgenre as cultural heritage.
I hold that practitioners ought to play a more pronounced role in highlighting the value of this subgenre in all its manifestations and defend its preservation and diffusion for posterity as well as articulate the ways in which this preservation and diffusion can be achieved. The likely refutation, that going into the studio to produce hits is in itself enough to preserve and diffuse this subgenre, is quite frankly lazy and tangential. Just ask architects of gqom and kwaito. They will tell you.
Theorising about the ways in which amapiano is a cultural heritage that deserves longevity and preservation is critical to its survival and continued success. Conversely, an absence of this theorising will serve to aid its demise.
Unless more is done for the subgenre by those involved, one will be forgiven to believe that this is but just another accidental commercial vehicle which is being exploited by those who know that another “sentiment”, another “existence”, another “drive” is on the cards. And soon amapiano will occupy a deep, (dis)quiet grave.
Phepheng is an author and doctoral candidate at the University of the Western Cape.
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