First there was kwaito, then house and then gqom was the talk of the town. Now South Africans are jamming to a new kind of beat.
Amapiano isn’t only dominating dance floors all over the country, it’s taken over everything from the airwaves to township streets. It’s hard to pin down exactly where the genre fits in, but the sound combines deep house music with an upbeat jazzy piano feel. And it’s made DJ Stokie (36) and DJ Jaivane (27) quite popular.
These days the pair are always on the line-up at parties in Pretoria and Johannesburg, and the new sound is sweeping the nation.
“It took a while for people to love it but now they have no choice,” Stokie says. “It would be weird to have a party without a set or two of amapiano playing. It’s spreading like wildfire, yet some critics feel the new genre has buried the Durban gqom sound, which took over a few years ago and became “the new kwaito”.
Another bone of contention has been who the originators of amapiano are. Some think DJ Stokie, whose career spans 20 years, is the one who pioneered the sound – and he certainly believes so.
“I’ve been playing the piano for years and years,” he tells us. “I heard this unique sound from these other DJs called MFR Souls from the East Rand and I loved it. When I started playing this sound, I somehow introduced it to people.” Stokie’s current single, AmaInternational, is proving to be a crowd favourite among amapiano lovers.
His debut album, Amapiano Movement Volume 1 Mixed by DJ Stokie, will be released in a few weeks. “It showcases a unique mix of vocal drum and tribal bass, which unearths a progressive amapiano sound and other smooth and soulful mixes. The music on there just does the talking.” He’s come a long way from creating beats from his backroom in Mzimhlophe in Soweto. Stokie, born Setoki Mbatha, got his big break in 2006 when he made a name for himself as a finalist on the Mad Half Hour, a feature on Joburg-based youth station YFM.
Now he regularly shares the stage with some of SA’s finest DJs. Before finding fame as a disc jockey, Jaivane was a cashier at Pick n Pay. “I didn’t like going to work but had no choice because I had to put food on the table for my family,” he recalls. Jaivane – real name Luyanda Mlonzi – and Stokie come a long way.
“Before meeting at Danish Pub [in Soweto] where we were regular DJs, we had heard about each other and we were fans of each other’s craft. “In many instances, I saved him because he’d be so overbooked I would have to play an extra set because he was late or couldn’t pitch.” The guys share a solid brotherhood built over the years.
“This industry is very tricky,” Stokie says. “You don’t always easily let anyone into your life. You need to be careful and listen to people who will share wisdom and not sugarcoat the truth.”
After years of being friends, Stokie and Jaivane – who is from Diepkloof in Soweto – currently have a two-man tour that kick-started in the East Rand, where they’re regarded as the kings of amapiano. Yet their heady days of fame are a far cry from their humble beginnings. Back in the day they were “thanked” with a plate of food or scones and gemere (ginger beer) for DJing.
“I used to get R150 for playing for the whole weekend,” Stokie says. “I would go home with nothing because we (other DJs he hung with) would use the money to go buy vinyls. At the time, vinyls were R100 each and we didn’t compromise when it came to good music.”
Their years of dedication have paid off, they say. Booking either of the DJs for an hour-long set starts at R5 000 but this also depends on the season, time, location and generally the scale of the event. “Seku right (Now things are alright),” Stokie says with a chuckle. “I used to hire out sound and DJ for hours at parties, graduations, unveilings or weddings. Today that will never happen,” he says. “I only go if I’m booked for a set and not the whole event.”
They get thousands of rands for every appearance but Jaivane says it was never about money. “Even though I was broke, I was at my happiest when I was DJing. “Apart from just being DJs, we owe our success to being consistent and dedicated to creating and playing quality music,” he adds. Looking back at how far they’ve come, he gets a bit emotional.
“I can’t believe I’m here. From having nothing and being no one, I’m now known and respected. A well-known DJ. Wow. “There are people I grew up with and started this DJing thing with and today they are drunkards and on street corners doing nothing with their lives. But this is where you see how great God is.” Perseverance, Jaivane says, pays off. “Back in 2014 I’d probably get R350 to play. I would be happy to get it. I could have given up like others did along the way. I’m so happy I didn’t.” The success is sweet, the hard work has paid off, but they’ve learnt having your feet firmly on the ground is important.
“It’s true, girls throw themselves at us, but you have to be smart,” Jaivane says with a laugh. Stokie proudly poses with his wedding ring for our photoshoot. “They must know I’m taken. But the girls we come across don’t care. I’ve been in the game for a long time. I know their tricks.” He’s been happily married to his wife, Pretty, since 2016 and they’re expecting their first child. He’s been telling his bestie to tie the knot too.
“He always tells me a good woman is important, someone you know loves you and has your back no matter what,” Jaivane says. He is dating someone but prefers not to name her. They try to keep their private lives out of the public eye. The guys just want to be known for what they do best: amapiano. “And whatever comes next. We will evolve with the times and the music.