How WhatsApp Helped South African DJs Spread The Word About Amapiano – The Music Genre
“Anyone can make music on their PC now,” laments DJ Sumbody of Ayepyep, Ngwana Daddy and Monate Mpolaye fame. “You don’t have to go to the studio. You get a program, you do beats. If they can master it, it’s a track, it’s out there. It’s simple now.”
While preceding genres and music movements have taken advantage of the ready availability of software that can be purchased or digitally cracked to mimic a physical studio, amapiano has been the most radical departure from established and entrenched ways of making, marketing, and distributing music in South Africa thus far.
Innovation and originality are spurred on by unrelenting competition and, importantly, the music can be sent directly to market, where it flourishes in accordance with its popularity. The high-burn nature of the genre, however, means that the music being released is of a quality that does not please everyone.
Producer and deejay Junior Taurus says, “I just hope that amapiano will actually make a 360 [degree] turn to a point where we’re adding proper vocals and proper meaning. We can still dance to it but as long as the generation to come will actually play it and [say], ‘Yoh, that’s a classic.’”
WhatsApp is probably the most influential technology in the amapiano movement’s growth. With the messaging app, producers are able to send their music to a wide network of users and those listeners can send it on to their networks if they choose.
“When you send music through Whatsapp,” says Gong Gong producer KWiiSH SA, “there is no stopping it. So the name KwiishSA was already on kids’ phones and I would hear my music being played in local taxis, not knowing how it got there.”
Social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram have also served unsigned shoestring amapiano producers well. On these platforms, they are able to present themselves “as brands” and remain top-of-mind, market their music, events and merchandise, and have a port of call for opportunities to perform and collaborate – all at a relatively low cost.
Other platforms, such as file hosting platform Fakaza and DataFileHost, have been hotwired into this distribution model and become instrumental as places where music can be uploaded and accessed by anyone interested enough to download it. These platforms track the number of downloads for a particular song or collection of songs. However, they do not allow for the tracking and monetisation of each play once the file has been downloaded.
Amapiano goes mainstream
With all of these tools in hand, an amapiano producer can gain access to a market that in the past might have been the preserve of artists signed to a record label. But as the movement expands, it is becoming increasingly important for artists to take their guerrilla distribution tactics into record label boardrooms.
DJ Sumbody, whose label Sumsounds recently signed a deal with Sony Music Group, says, “I have a partnership with Sony for me to release my own artists under my company, including myself. It’s a 50-50 deal, we share costs from marketing to distribution to PR. Music videos as well. Obviously, they are a bigger brand so they know more about this music industry thing.”
It’s not what amapiano has borrowed that has made it the electronic music movement of the proportions that it is today. Instead, its success is in how it has necessitated an ecosystem that supports a sound that was and continues to develop according to what audiences want to hear and the sounds with which they identify.