What is Amapiano? Exploring the African House Genre Through Spotify Playlists

The rising South African genre Amapiano is taking over the world through streaming platforms and independent playlists.

What is Amapiano? Exploring the African House Genre Through Spotify Playlists
June 21, 20235 min read
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This is the second in a three-part series exploring Amapiano in collaboration with UK ticketing platform Shoobs and music AI platform Musiio by SoundCloud. Read the first part here.

By Sarah Kloboves and Alejandra Arevalo from Chartmetric

Step into the world of Amapiano, a 2010s-born music genre that blends infectious rhythms, soulful melodies, and the vibrant spirit of South African culture. Stemming from the South African genres of Kwaito and Gqom, Amapiano is a fusion of house and tribal beats now dominating dance floors around the world. With the help of Spotify playlists and city-level listener data available on Chartmetric, we’ll explore how this regional genre broke into today’s global music landscape.

Early Playlist Adds

Amapiano’s local scene has been blossoming in South Africa for nearly a decade, as early tastemakers embraced the genre’s sound as a celebration of the region’s rich Black culture. Still, the rest of the world wouldn’t begin to catch on until much later, when UK producers began blending Amapiano influences with other Western genres.

We consulted Chartmetric's database of more than 17 million public Spotify playlists to understand the growth of the genre on the platform. The oldest playlist in our database with the word “Amapiano” in its title and/or description dates back to December 2019–and only a few playlists using this keyword were created monthly throughout the following year.

Around the same time, Gqom-dedicated Spotify playlists started popping up. Defined as a minimalist and raw sound, Gqom incorporates a fast and intense tempo with heavy basslines and syncopated rhythms. Amapiano, on the other hand, has a more melodic and relaxed sound with elements of jazz and lounge music.

These two genres fed off the traction from one another to drive them past the barriers of the mainstream during the pandemic. In May 2021, both Gqom and Amapiano playlists saw their first spike, but ultimately the latter stood as the most popular genre–with dozens of Amapiano-focused playlists created every month since. The genre's Spotify popularity correlated with a rise in Amapiano live events in the U.K. sold through the ticketing platform Shoobs and SoundCloud uploads tagged under the genre.

A Look Inside Playlists

Currently, more than 1.3K public playlists on Spotify contain the word “Amapiano,” with 11 being curated by Spotify. More than 98% of these playlists have been updated in the last four months, showing the curators' continued interest in the genre. The platform’s most-followed playlist of this genre, Spotify's AMAPIANO grooves, debuted on June 6, 2020, and now has more than half a million followers.

The playlist includes tracks by some of the most popular artists in the genre such as Uncle Waffles (who this year became the first Amapiano act to perform at Coachella), Kabza De Small (who was listed in Rolling Stone's best Afropop songs of 2022 list) and Young Stunna (who was part of Wakanda Forever's official soundtrack).

While there is no geographical data available for Spotify playlist followers, we can look at specific tracks and artists in major playlists to map out the rise of Amapiano. "Nana Thula" from De Small's album Piano Hub was one of the first tracks to be added to AMAPIANO grooves when the playlist was created in June 2020. Back then, De Small was a rising sensation in his home country with tens of thousands of Spotify monthly listeners in major cities (47K+ in Johannesburg, 24K+ in Pretoria, and 15K+ in Cape Town). At the time, London was the international city with the most De Small listeners (3.7K), probably thanks to the UK tour he headlined eight months before, but otherwise, he had little recognition abroad (2.1K Spotify monthly listeners in Amsterdam, 1.6K in Paris, and 958 in Los Angeles).

As his music started climbing the Spotify charts and making it into more playlists, his musical footprint began to expand, creating a positive feedback that propelled his career even more. De Small is currently featured in more than 33K independent and editorial Spotify playlists, exposing more than 6M listeners to the sounds of Amapiano.

Currently one of Amapiano's hottest acts, De Small now boosts 1.25M Spotify monthly listeners, with top cities including many outside of his home country such as Lagos, Nigeria (42.3K+ Spotify monthly listeners), Nairobi, Kenya (30K+), and London, UK (29K+). As a mainstream artist showing growth, De Small and his Amapiano tunes are just one of the many successful artists in the genre that is successfully taking over the global stage.

Independent Success

Exploring the tracks in AMAPIANO grooves can also give us insights into the record label landscape in the genre. Out of the 50 tracks in the playlist, 48 come from independent record labels, while only 2 are from a major record label, Universal Music Group. We can see a similar pattern throughout other major playlists, including AmaPiano 2023 and Best of Amapiano, which have 92% and 88% of tracks from independent record labels, respectively. Despite Amapiano's growing popularity worldwide, independent African labels are thriving as major labels have yet to catch up to signing artists in this genre.

For all three playlists mentioned, the label New Money Gang Records appears to account for the largest share of signed artists by track. New Money Gang is a record label started by Amapiano's godfather and Scorpion Kings member, DJ Maphorisa, to promote South African acts. Since 2016, he has signed the likes of Tyler ICU, Felo Le Tee, and dozens of other notable names. He also owns the rights to several catalog tracks from Scorpion Kings' companion Kabza De Small. Following the creation of New Money Gang, Maphorisa has proven that Amapiano is thriving without the help of major labels and has further grown his own fan base by nearly 2 million Spotify followers along the way.

What's Next for Amapiano

The past three years have been pivotal for Amapiano, as it went from a nascent genre to being performed at some of the biggest stages in the world. Spotify playlists and social media played a significant role in amplifying Amapiano's reach during the pandemic lockdown, garnering an international fanbase growing by the day.

Independent record labels are at the center of the genre's growth, and we predict that they will keep dominating the space as it's still yet to be seen whether major record labels will catch up. No matter who leads the way, it's clear that the South African genre has a bright future captivating electronic music fans around the globe.

In part 3, Shoobs will give us a brief history of Amapiano in the UK through live music.