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DJ Maphorisa Wants You To Keep Dancing

These days, it’s quite rare to enter the dance without hearing the soulful sounds of Amapiano. What started in the townships of South Africa has exploded into a worldwide movement. Amapiano has taken over and it’s here to stay. Whilst it's hard to trace back to individual originators of the sound, there are certainly some DJ and producers whose influence on the Amapiano scene is indisputable.

Left: DJ Maphorisa. Right: Kabza De Small

Themba Sekowe, popularly known as DJ Maphorisa is one half of the duo 'Scorpion Kings,' alongside fellow DJ and producer Kabza De Small. They are the masterminds behind songs like Abalele, Sandton, Emcimbini, and several other Amapiano hits. The duo has collaborated with South African juggernauts like Ami Faku and Samthing Soweto, as well as international stars including Wizkid, Drake, Major Lazer. 

Whilst the pair are magic together, Sekowe is a star in his own right. His first single Midnight Starring, featuring  Moonchild Sanelly, DJ Tira and Busiswa landed him two nominations: Favourite Song Of The Year and Favourite DJ at the 2018 DStv Mzansi Viewers Choice Awards. Outside of DJing and producing, he is also an events promoter and owns a record label: BlaqBoy Music. In many ways, Sekowa footprint can be found in what we consideer contemporary African music as we know it.

I met Sekowe at a co-working space in Holborn. Admittedly, I was nervous to be face-to-face with the man who created so many of my favourite songs, but my nerves quickly disappear when I’m met with a quiet, shy but warm demeanour. 

He tells me he is only in London for a few days but will be back in August, headlining Piano People In The Park with Kabza De Small. “I enjoy being in London because everyone loves Amapiano here and people vibe with it so it feels like home,” he says. Sekowe describes London ’as the headquarters of Amapiano’  highlighting its importance in the genre’s movement. 

While London may have fanned the flames for its movement out of South Africa, Amapiano has now spread to all corners of the world. From America to Europe and Australia, it’s hard to find a metropolitan city that doesn’t have some sort of Amapiano scene. This was always part of Dj Maphorisa’s dream. Sekowe says: “I always hoped to see Amapiano grow. So, the fact that it’s actually happening makes me feel humbled and grateful.” Although this is what he hoped for, he shared that it felt surreal at first. “Seeing a soccer player or a celebrity vibing to Amapiano was a bit weird at the beginning but now we’re getting used to it,” Sekowe adds. 

As the sound grew, artists outside of South Africa started to incorporate Amapiano sounds into their own music. We’ve seen Afrobeat music sensations like Wizkid, Burna Boy, and Davido releasing Amapiano inspired music. Sekowe admits that at first, he felt protective of the sound but soon realised that its growth was uncontrollable; “People really love it, everyone is enjoying it and it’s bringing food to the table, which means it’s a good thing. In the past three or four years I’ve seen everyone growing, buying houses, everyone is eating, it’s big.”

Amapiano is often compared to similar genres like Afro-house and Gqom. While there are similarities and influences within the sound, Sekowe explains that there a few elements that set Amapiano apart. “Amapiano is very slow, it’s between 110 BPM to 115 BPM. Whereas Afro-house and Gbom move faster. Afro-house has a BPM of 125 and upwards so, it’s a difference of tempo,” he explains.  

He continues; “It’s hard to play Afro-house at a party because the mood changes. But, now Afro-house has used some of the elements in Amapiano like the log-drum, which I like because it’s kind of like endorsing Amapiano in a way.” 

What makes Amapiano stand out is that it’s impossible to listen to it without moving. Its infectious beats encourages its listeners to dance in a way that other genres don’t. Naturally, it has been embraced as a central aspect of many Black events and parties all over the world.

Sekowe first met Kabza De Small at one such party. “I make gigs so I was making a gig and I wanted to know who the popping DJs were. I was put on to Kabza De Small and we put him on the line-up. We started talking and we exchanged numbers and then we started working together.” The duo enjoys an undeniable synergy but Sekowe and Kabza De Small came from different musical backgrounds. “I’ve always been switching genres. So I did Afrobeats, house music, and Gqom so I’ve always been dynamic. But, Kabza put me on Amapiano so I had to learn. Once I started understanding it, we started making great stuff together,” Sekowe shares. 

One of Scorpion Kings' stand-out songs and a personal favourite, is Abalele, which features the incomparable Ami Faku. The song's lyrics indicate that the song is about heartbreak, but Sekowe says it has a deeper meaning.

He explains that, "it’s a double entendre, it’s like you’re waking up the ones who are sleeping but you’re also waking up the dead...Abalele is two people in love but they’ve both made mistakes. We’ve fucked up and we’re both sorry. But it’s like our love is so deep, it’s messing with the ancestors.”

When you hear songs like Abalele in the dancefloor, they take you to another place. The production creates an emotional tension in you such that you understand that the lyrics hold depth even when you don't fully understanding them. The song speaks to how Sekowe sees Amapiano. “Amapiano is an African and spiritual thing,” he starts before adding, “you can dance, you can be sad- it’s got all the emotions. It can be happy, it can be about heartbreak. I really love it because it’s got a feeling that makes people feel so much. I can see it when I DJ.”

Scorpio King have produced have come to be hailed as the Godfathers of Amapiano; a title that can come with a bit of pressure, but one that doesn’t intimidate Sekowe. He explains, “I like to develop people, I like to grow with people who I can help. So, there’s no real pressure. I help artists and I also manage people as I run my label. So it’s hard for me to get threatened with anything because I always welcome anything.” Under his label, he has signed artists like Daliwonga, Tyler ICU, and Shasha. 

In August, Sekowe and Kabza De Small will headline Piano Party In The Park in London. The line-up includes artists and DJs like Vigro Deep, Young Stunna, and Mawhoo.  He'll get to DJ to a London crowd that has become familiar to him now.

When asked what we can expect from DJ Maphorisa in the future he says; “growth and building because I’m a developer. I want to collaborate more, I want Amapiano to spread in Asia and even more in the European market.”


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