From Beats to the Streets to the Catwalks: How Amapiano Enabled a Lifestyle

Spend enough time browsing music and entertainment news sites, and you’ll find no shortage of articles about Amapiano’s decade-long rise from underground genre to global phenomenon—in addition, articles about international megastars’ collaborating with Amapiano artists or featuring their songs on world tours. 

But Amapiano is far more than just a music genre. It has grown in popularity and become a lifestyle with significant influences on dance and fashion. And just like the music itself grew over 153K% in exports from 2014 to 2023, those influencers are also going global.

Perhaps the best exemplifier of this is dance. As with Kwaito, one of the biggest influences on Amapiano, dance is inseparable from the genre. From its early inception on the streets of South Africa’s townships, the genre has always lent itself to innovation around dance and movement. 

It’s a link that Amapiano artists are keenly aware of, too. 

“Music doesn’t move without dance,” says Kamo Mphela, an Amapiano artist behind the hit song Dalie.” “That’s personally my perspective—that it is its own language, it’s very universal. I don’t think either can exist without each other.” 

The roots of the dances we associate with date back to the Pantsula tradition, which emerged in South Africa’s townships in the 1950s and 1960s. Unlike its antecedents, however, Amapiano has been able to draw on social media both as a source of inspiration and as a vehicle for taking the music and dances to a global audience. 

Social media dance challenges in particular have been crucial to Amapiano’s worldwide growth. There have been instances of dance challenges leading to the discovery of Amapiano songs and artists and assisting in increasing their streaming numbers, such as Uncle Waffles’ “Yahyuppiyah or Tyler ICU’s “Mnike.” On Spotify, both tracks are in the top five on the most- streamed Amapiano tracks and the top-exported Amapiano tracks lists per data from the past 10 years. 

These dance challenges continue to grab the attention of high-profile figures around the world, too. In March 2024, for example, Jason Derulo took part in the viral Tshwala Bam dance challenge. That put him in the company of celebrities like Ciara, Jamie Foxx, Kelly Rowland, and Jay Z, who’ve participated in previous challenges. 

That dance heritage has helped inform the fashion associated with Amapiano. While there’s no sense of the homogeneity associated with some genres, there are a few common motifs. Among men, bucket hats, which call back to the Kwaito era, are common sights in Amapiano hotspots, for example. But you’re also likely to see canvas sneakers, Carvela moccasins, and Lacoste golf shirts. Women, meanwhile, wear leggings, joggers, bodycon dresses, or loose-fitting pants. 

Accessories are also important to Amapiano fashion. Chunky gold jewelry, layered necklaces, and statement earrings are all commonly sported accessories among Amapiano artists and fans. 

Amapiano fashion isn’t afraid to borrow from international influences while containing elements that are uniquely South African. You can expect to see designers influenced by the genre incorporating traditional South African prints and silhouettes into their work. 

For the artists, the unabashed South Africanness of every aspect of Amapiano is something worth celebrating. After all, Amapiano’s 2.7 billion-plus streams over the last 10 years can be attributed to its authenticity. 

“That’s what Amapiano is,” says rapper Focalistic. “It’s about representing where we come from, and I think it’s a blessing that people relate to it around the world.” 

Ultimately, however, this blend of music, dance, and fashion speaks most powerfully to Amapiano’s celebration of self-expression. 

“One of the most affirming parts of watching Amapiano explode over the past decade is seeing how people use it for self-expression,” says Phiona Okumu, Spotify Head of Music for sub-Saharan Africa

It’s something she believes will help keep the Amapiano ball rolling for a long time to come.