Amapiano is a force to be reckoned with on the global music stage, and this is thanks to its influence on popular culture. “Spotify provides a home for Amapiano to grow, with 55% of the music getting played from outside South Africa,” says Phiona Okumu, Head of Music at Spotify Sub-Saharan Africa

The heroes of the Amapiano movement are also getting deserved recognition. From Uncle Waffles being the first Amapiano DJ to perform on the Coachella main stage to singer-songwriter Tyla earning a Grammy, this distinctly South African dance music is now being adopted into mainstream culture across the world.

As the sound evolves and its thriving culture spreads globally, it’s important to unravel the crucial moments that stimulate this global success and contribute to Amapiano’s over 1.4 billion streams in 2023 on Spotify. 

Africa embraces Amapiano

Amapiano got to the rest of the world by traveling through Africa. As this township house sound came to define Johannesburg’s nightlife culture, musicians all over the continent tuned in. Its journey began with West and East African artists experimenting with the sound. Some visited South Africa to work with local Amapiano acts, while others added and infused Amapiano elements to their productions.

“The results of these experiments show up in our data today. Cities like Lagos, Port Harcourt, Lusaka, and Gaborone stream the most Amapiano outside of South Africa,” says Phiona.

Ghanaian producer Juls released “Soweto Blues” with South Africa’s Busiswa. Nigeria’s Tiwa Savage gave “Dangerous Love” the Amapiano treatment with a remix from South African producer De Mthuda. Rema’s hit single “Woman” brings Amapiano drums and saxophone together with kicks and percussion from Afrobeats. Wizkid’s “Bad To Me” and “2 Sugar” are songs that showcase the sonic embrace between the two genres.

“Back then these songs gave more artists across the continent permission to make Amapiano their own,” says Phiona. Amapiano’s DBN Gogo says this is important because music can build a shared understanding across cultures “when people make it their own and try to merge it with their own genres.”

This is how Bongopiano emerged from Tanzania, where Swahili lyrics on hypnotic dance beats give Amapiano an East African twist. Moroccan DJ Flomine says, “When you mix Amapiano with traditional Moroccan music [Gnawa], it connects people. And when you introduce live instruments, people just love it because they feel like we are exchanging culture.”

Television takes Amapiano from SA to the USA

The small screen enhances Amapiano’s cultural currency. South African drama series like Youngins use Amapiano soundtracks to bring the rebellious and trendy energy of the high school drama to life. The show’s dance scenes wouldn’t work without the log drum-peppered beats, which capture the show’s spirit and make it relatable to its Gen Z audience.

Amapiano also anchored Kokota, a drama set in Mamelodi, one of the Pretoria townships where the genre is said to have started out. The show follows the story of a preacher’s son and his journey of becoming a musician. Its use of location, Sepitori (a form of Setswana slang), and fashion celebrate the genre by showing life from an aspiring artist’s point of view.

“Directors are taking advantage of the genre’s international influence by telling stories about the origins of Amapiano,” says Phiona. “South Africa’s favourite music export is also infiltrating TV shows in North America.”

The Jennifer Hudson Show host and EGOT winner Jennifer Hudson got South Africa hyped when the Biko’s Manna band taught her the viral “Tshwala Bam” dance. Who can forget Tyla’s U.S. TV debut performance of “Water”on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon? Yet another moment that cemented Amapiano as a global cultural entity.

True to its essence even when far from home

Amapiano influences culture across the Atlantic thanks to events like AmaFest, an Amapiano festival for South African and British performers in the United Kingdom. Afro Nation has now made Portugal a destination for African and European Amapiano fans alike thanks to its Piano People stage. 

These shows are a sign of the impact the South African sound is making on the global music scene. Their ongoing success reflects how much different cultures love the sound, even if they may not understand the lyrics. Small wonder, then, that among the top countries streaming Amapiano in the last 10 years are the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Netherlands, and France. 

The genre’s earliest artists, like MFR Souls, Kelvin Momo, and Scorpion Kings, along with its latest pioneers, DBN Gogo, Uncle Waffles, and Kamo Mphela, are headliners at these festivals, showing that Amapiano’s global reach won’t stop it from staying true to its roots and essential sounds.

Phiona’s reminder is that it’s thanks to “dedicated artists that the genre’s borrowed blend of diBacardi, Kwaito, and jazz are here to stay. While it influences and adapts to different regions, Amapiano will always call South Africa home.”