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Gatekeeping for amapiano is necessary to preserve the culture from repackaging

Kabza De Small. Picture: Instagram

Kabza De Small. Picture: Instagram

Published Aug 20, 2021


Music genres created by Black people have a long history of being repackaged and stolen.

The “Cadillac Car” scene in “Dreamgirls” illustrates this perfectly where Jimmy Early (Eddie Murphy) and the Dreams record the song but it only gets radio play when it’s redone by white performers.

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More famously, Elvis Presley stole “Hound Dog” from Big Mama Thornton and went on to become a global sensation.

Similarly, while Chuck Berry is widely recognised as the father of rock ’n’ roll, the genre was mostly used to propel white artists who were made the face and “pioneers” of the genre, quickly erasing the BIPOC (black, indigenous, and people of colour ) responsible for its creation.

In recent years, while some artists have been culture vultures – stares at Aubrey Graham – for the most part, pioneers of dance hall, reggaeton, and drill have been the face of them and have had global success from it.

Back in 2017, when gqom dominated in South Africa, it unfortunately didn’t get the same treatment. The genre was quickly repackaged by international acts using their producers and the people who created it were left behind.

Earlier this year, American radio DJ Megan Ryte landed on the bad side of South Africans when she dropped her song “Culture Vulture” with and A$AP Ferg. They thought no one would notice that they stole DJ Lag’s “Ice Drop” beat.

However, Mzansi cyberbullied her and the former Black Eyed Peas member into submission with the story grabbing global attention. Since that drama, the song was removed from YouTube and streaming platforms.

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That moment led South Africans to be very protective about music genres created in the country and realising the need for some form of gatekeeping. Should it not happen, the authenticity of the genre gets lost along with all credit to the pioneer in a cannibalising global market.

Enter British singer Jorja Smith.

The well-known “cursive” singer dropped her new song “All of This” with Ghanaian music producer Guilty Beatz.

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The song quickly became a hot topic since Smith captioned the post promoting the single “Piano to the world”.

If you didn’t know, amapiano has taken over the South African music scene along with groove culture nationally.

While the genre had its beginnings in 2012 in the townships of Pretoria, it remained relatively regional and underground for many years until the big boom in 2019, which saw Kabza De Small and DJ Maphorisa bringing the genre into the mainstream space.

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The Scorpion King duo dropped four albums that year with the summer of 2019 being declared as the summer of amapiano.

Clubs, groove spots and festivals quickly embraced the genre and it then moved to gain major radio play with “Labantwana Ama Uber” becoming one of the biggest songs in the country.

Since then the genre has only gotten bigger with more and more DJs, producers, singers and rappers that exclusively work in amapiano gaining major success in the country.

And while the coronavirus pandemic put a speed bump in the progression of the genre – justice for “eMcimbini” – it hasn’t stopped the genre from gaining polarity in the continent.

Many of our DJs even during the ongoing pandemic have been able to travel across the continent bringing amapiano to the rest of Africa.

The next big leap would be for the genre to go global as has happened to its Nigerian sister afrobeats.

However, since that hasn’t happened yet and, unlike afrobeats, the pioneers of the genre haven’t seen global success or acclaim, having Smith drop an amapiano song with no South Africans involved was deemed premature.

Across the Twitter-sphere, regular South Africans, along with members of the amapiano fraternity, called out Smith and Guilty Beatz since they could create future problems if a watered-down track by an international singer became the global face for the genre.

DBN Gogo. Picture: Instagram

“French Kiss” hitmaker DBN Gogo was particularly vocal online about why Smith’s song was problematic and how South African needs to protect the genre since it’s still in its infancy stage.

The “Khuza Gogo” producer added: “South Africans and the people that make it have to be the forefront of it ... Even myself, I would never make amapiano without someone who makes amapiano, because it doesn’t make sense.

“I wouldn’t work with people who don’t originate the sound, who don’t actually come from the sound.

“There’s no issue with people dabbling in it. But do not come and make your own rendition of the sound when the sound hasn’t even broken internationally.

“So it’s very important that when we’re exporting a sound that it comes from where it comes from, you know, that goes with anything products. It’s the same thing. It’s a product of South Africa.

“It cannot just be a creative idea that people are allowed to come and take and dilute and make their own and break internationally and get the credit for it without even paying homage to it.”

DBN Gogo goes on to use hip hop as example and how, even when South Africa jumped on the hip hop train, it didn’t take away from the people who created the genre in America.

Furthermore, stating that if South Africans allow what happened to gqom to happen to amapiano “it's going to take away from what we are doing. We’re going to end up missing out”.

Amapiano being taken to the world needs to happen with those that are responsible for the genre at the forefront and gaining the success and acclaim so many other music pioneers before them have received.

Until that happens, gatekeeping is not only necessary for the genre but for the culture that accompanies it, too.