Amapiano, arguably South Africa’s hottest music genre and cultural export right now, has caught up like wildfire across Africa and worldwide. From the clubs to the streets and music charts outside of South Africa, more artistes continue to draw influences from the Amapiano sound to create their music.
It’s impossible to trace the origin of Amapaino music without speaking with some of the genre’s front liners like Focalistic, Young Stunna, Dancer cum singer Kamo Mphela or visiting one of the birthplaces of Amapiano, Jack Budha in Mamelodi.
To this end, Spotify recently hosted select media and influencers from across the continent on an Amapiano Tourism experience to uncover the genre’s roots, the power of collaborations and how streaming is helping to export local music genres like Amiapiano to the world.
One of the top five exported South African Amapiano artists Focalistic, dropped by for the first leg of the tour at Jack Budha in Mamelodi, Gauteng, South Africa, to share the genre’s origin story.
Focalistic, a footballer turned rapper, spoke about how collaborating with Davido on Champion Sound gave him inroads into the Nigerian music industry in this interview with PREMIUM TIMES.
PT: How did your collaboration with Davido on ‘Champion Sound’ come about?
FOCALISTIC: Davido and I met four years ago in Pretoria. He was on a South African Tour, and they kept playing Amapiano – my music -, and he said, ‘’Yo, who’s this kid?’ I don’t know’’? And I was in the building.
As I said, Amampiano is spiritual for us, and I don’t know how that happened. He gave me one of his guys’ numbers and said, ‘One day, we’ll make a song together’’. The song became number one in Nigeria, and I was performing at the time in Nigeria. It just spiritually happened – the universe – and that’s where we’re going with music; everything has to make sense like that.
Amapiano is like that; that’s how we collaborated with Diamond. We chilled for years before we even had the first song together. And for him, it was also understanding where we come from and what we do it for, and that’s the only way you do it right.
Amapiano isn’t a genre you can learn in two days and make a smash – it’s years and years of understanding; it’s just dancing music, your culture and how your words add to a dance beat. It’s been a crazy journey. As I said, four years ago, meeting Davido and now having over 50 million streams from Nigeria alone feels like that’s my second home. My fanbase is South Africa first, Nigeria, the US and the UK.
PT: Why is Jack Budha in Mamelodi integral to Amapiano’s history in South Africa?
Focalistic: We would come here (Jack Budha) and listen to Amapiano sets for three hours. We wanted to escape from the noise and do our own thing as Africans, speaking in our tongue. Amapiano makes an imprint in our hearts and has emotions. Amapiano is spiritual. For us, it was an escape from the noise of hip hop at the time and a way to stay closer to our roots – you know, South Africans came from a house background. That made us relate to Amapiano – it felt like a more familiar canvas and closer to our hearts. We Africans are obsessed with saying things in our voice right now – we want to even dress in our clothes, say something in our voice and sound like ourselves – that’s what Amapiano is.
PT: Amapiano is unapologetic. Interestingly, people worldwide are vibing without understanding the language. What does this suggest?
Focalistic: That’s how you make an imprint. When you get to America, the most significant thing from South Africa is Nelson Mandela, and that’s because he stood for his country – that’s what Amapiano is – it’s about representing where we come from. It’s a blessing that people relate to it worldwide, but at the same time, it’s because they can hear the emotion – it sells more than words.
If I could sprinkle an English expression that meant nothing, you still wouldn’t like the song. Still, everything is carefully curated to ensure we relay the emotion, which is why Amapiano is touching everywhere.
PT: What does it mean to live in South Africa, the home base of Amapiono?
Focalistic: It means eating the food I like. For me, food is so important because it means I’m in a comfortable space and can make the best music I’ve ever made. I’m the best version of myself when I’m home. As much as we’re travelling, we’re spreading the stories of kids that made a difference from small rooms in these hoods. Every song is about that—even ‘Champion Sound’. Funny enough, that song was recorded on my birthday. Davido was around on my birthday, and we spoke about wanting to be in Pretoria because of my music; he wants to learn Pretoria. Which means it’s a ‘Champion Sound’ and championing visions from our hoods. We want to represent where we come from and make it better. In that sense, we’re the new government – the kids are the new government. We care more.
PT: Some people think Amapiano, like other genres, would come and go. Do you agree?
Focalistic: The conversation we’re having among ourselves is whether it’s right to gatekeep. Many people are now; this year, gatekeeping isn’t such a bad word anymore. We understand that as much as the sound goes international, it needs to be protected, so we keep the pioneers as the pioneers, just like any genre.
For hip-hop, you know about Run DMC and their iconic moments. So for us, it’s about how we gatekeep, especially the culture and history, so that as much as it goes around the world, people always remember who created Amapiano.
It’s a shame South Africa doesn’t have a hall of fame that documents culture in general because, as much as it can go, we must always remember the pioneers. Our conversation is, “How do we protect the pioneers going forward?” because it’s inevitable that it will grow.
PT: How does having a massive fanbase in Nigeria feel?
Focalistic: What if I told you I just recorded a song with a famous Nigerian musician? Im not permitted to share details but trust me, it will be released soon. I’ve never seen Nigeria as outside of me. I make pan-African music. If there’s a song, it must be number one everywhere, so I’ve never seen Nigerians as outside my reach.
The first time I went to Nigeria, people weren’t dancing; they were watching me perform. So, seeing that progress for me has been beautiful – people dancing and happy. They vibed with my music and started developing their dance moves, which are more personal now. That’s the growth I’m super proud of. Just seeing Nigerians dancing at the show – I don’t think you understand how happy that makes me feel.
PT: Would you say social media trends have boosted your songs and appeal?
Focalistic: I just heard about TikTok just about a year ago. “Yo, your song is trending on TikTok,” I didn’t even understand what it meant. So for me, I’ve never had to change, fortunately. Our responsibility as artistes is to document life and never to fall into trends because then your music becomes bubblegum. We still need the meat. So, as much as there’s a trend, the song still has to mean something – that’s just me. When it gets down to the core, I’m an artiste, not a TikTok artiste or Instagram artiste. I’m an artiste telling stories that are super-genuine. If there’s a TikTok challenge, super great, I’m there dancing with you, but I don’t make music for that.
PT: What’s the secret behind your long-staying power?
Focalistic: I’m always in the studio. I think about something other than being relevant. I’m in the studio, I make the song, and we push it. Before TikTok, there was radio – people still needed to start creating songs for radio specifically. If your music was good enough, it would land on the radio. Eventually, this genre landed on radio, and people said, ‘Yeah, this is the radio type of song,’ but that’s not what we’re doing. We’re not making music for relevance. Most of my songs tell different stories.
PT: Amapiono breaks down language barriers. Its a plus, right?
Focalistic: When we used to listen to Afrobeats, many South Africans now understand Pidgin. We’re selling culture; that’s why I said we’re diplomats, in a sense. We’re selling what South Africans own- the stories we have, the vocabulary we have – you say you don’t understand, but you’re putting together like five words – you’ll learn. It’s a cultural exchange, 100 per cent.
PT: What’s the future of Amapiano?
Focalistic: Amapiano is as powerful as any genre in the world. In South Africa, for example, people have been saying it will fall off for the past five years, but it’s impossible. Amapiano is stable and will always be there, even if there’s any genre.
People will always have space for Amapiano. For me, it’s music, not genre-based, relevancy-based, or trend-based; it’s just music. I listen to a lot of Pretorian music because it’s super nostalgic.
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