CNN’s Inside Africa Meets Some Of Amapiano’s Biggest Stars

In a new episode of Inside Africa, CNN dives into Amapiano music and the rise of South African youth culture. Guest host Ninka Mbaye goes behind the scenes with some of the genre’s biggest names in South Africa and beyond.

Originating in South Africa, the word Amapiano derives from Zulu. A blend of styles: jazz, kwaito, and house, Amapiano leads with layered, rhythmic percussion. One of the genre’s rising stars, Kamo Mphele is known for her music as much as her electric viral videos. She says Amapiano, “Is a spiritual journey. It’s just everything, a lifestyle. Because there’s different people from different backgrounds that can relate to Amapiano. Any type of music genre can make Amapiano music. So, I think Amapiano is just a type of feeling, it’s just reality.” With the Amapiano sound originating from the townships, Mphele states, “I think it was really important for Black South Africans to have the Amapiano movement because we finally have a sound that belongs to us.”

Kamo Mphele

Responding to a lack of opportunities available for African artists, Yoel Kenan launched the label ‘Africori’ in 2009 in Johannesburg. One of the label’s biggest wins has been ‘Jerusalema’, which came out in 2019 and has stacked up more than a billion plays on TikTok, making it arguably the biggest African hit song of all time. He speaks about whether he thought the Amapiano sound could go global, “You listen to Amapiano in your home, it’s one thing, you experience it in the club with all those people and the dances and the joy and the energy. Then you say, well, this is unique. I used to say to my friends in clubs here, can we take the whole club and bring it to Paris or to London with the dancers, with the people? Because Amapiano without the South African lingo, the whistles, the looks, the smiles, it’s almost like you’re going to war, but it’s not war, it’s like it’s very full of joy and energy.”

Yoel Kenan

Next, multi-instrumentalist producer, singer, and songwriter Musa Keys, joins Mbaye. He was nominated for Best African Music Performance at the 2024 Grammy’s for his appearance on the song ‘Unavailable’ with Davido. The star discusses his music, “I never wanted to make music for South Africa alone. I mean, we were special, yes, but I can’t make music for South Africa alone. I need to make music for the rest of the world.”

Musa Keys

Finally, Mbaye meets Focalistic, also known as ‘The President of Pretoria’, whose song “Ke Star” achieved huge international success after its release in 2020. He says of the genre, “No one is going to stop the motion of Amapiano. It feels like the youth, African youth has been through so much. So, us being able to enjoy the fruit of our ancestors right now is quite amazing. It’s crazy. Amapiano is the revenge of the South African ancestors.”Focalistic says that his music is political as a way of honouring his dad, who was a political journalist, “I always felt like I needed to continue his legacy, especially where I come from.” He continues, “I found the perfect canvas, my art, which is Amapiano. I always say the beat sounds to me like a canvas. It’s an empty canvas and then the lyrics are painting the picture.”

Back in his hometown, playing a one-man show to 15,000 people at Pretoria’s Botanical Gardens, Focalistic explains to Mbaye how special this is for him, “Everyone starts off thinking how do I impress my hood? As much as we can travel the world, it’s about how do I impress people where I come from, that speak my language? […] I just want to give them the energy I’ve got.”

Focalistic concludes, “The whole world now knows us through a genre that belongs to us, specifically South Africa. The thing about Amapiano is it’s just a great vibe. The music, the culture, everything.”

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