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The best amapiano of 2021

2021 has been an incredible year for amapiano, as the world continues to take note of the genre’s power.

Tracks such as “Dakiwe”, “Umsebenzi Wethu”, “66”, “Nkao Tempela”, “Adiwele” and “Asibe Happy” have dominated on local and international airwaves as well as small screens, rising to become our lives’ soundtracks, welcoming new artists into the amalgam of proudly South African sounds that encompass amapiano. This list however, is not for the tracks that topped charts, or dominated in trending topics or DSP playlists. Here are productions that soundtracked moments to be remembered by many at home and abroad, some well-known and some bubbling under, some with energetic visuals and some with a simple upload to Youtube. Here are tracks that resonate as life-giving dancefloor moments, tracks to work out to, to prepare meals to, to quell the pain of the current moment’s ups and downs and bring new energy to each morning. As I do my best to pick just 20 tracks that made my year, I encourage new fans of the genre to find the gems that resonate just as well, as there is so much more of South Africa’s musical history to unearth in amapiano, along with new sounds and fusions of Afrotech, trap and bacardi house ushering in new talent to take the sound to new spaces.

Listen to the selection in our Spotify and Deezer playlist.

By Shiba Melissa Mazaza

Zaba, Dlala Thukzin

With a strong background in deep house and Afrotech, producer-DJ Dlala Thukzin has had a startling upward trajectory in 2021 with a string of great releases leading up to a new partnership at Def Jam Africa. First stealing hearts on the gold-selling “Phuze”, burgeoning Durban vocalist Zaba comes back for more after blazing a new trail between genres in the pivotal moment for South Africa’s electronic scenes. 

DJ King Tara

Best known for his smooth underground amapiano mixes, DJ King Tara slows the tempo way down for a groove steadily coming to a percussive peak with vocals that could instantly turn any house enthusiast into a new fan. While plenty of the best amapiano tracks are “leaked” onto Youtube in lesser quality in order to test the waters, “Mvuseni” is yet to be officially released as well – in the meantime, do help yourself to this beautiful deep house leaning track on Youtube. 

Musa Keys, Babalwa M, Aymos, Soa Matrix, Kelvin Momo, Mas Musiq
“Ku ShuShu”

Musa Keys has been at the top of his game for some time now, responsible for the DBN Gogo co-produced “Possible” and Sir Trill and Nobantu Vilakazi’s chart topping “Vula Mlomo” (fondly known as “Qho Qho” in East Africa). The bumper cast of supremely skilled vocalists Babalwa M and Aymos who have released their own noteworthy albums this year in Aluta Continua and Yimi Lo respectively sit well alongside super-producers Kelvin Momo and Mas Musiq is an undeniable gem off the “Tsonga Michael Jackson’s” latest project, TAYO.  

Kelvin Momo, Ch’cco, Yums, Ta Skipper, Tlholo
“Ivy League”

Not only is the entire album a long-awaited masterpiece from “private school” pioneer Kelvin Momo, but the title track itself passes with distinction at 16 minutes long, embracing the foundational aspects of amapiano and ushering in new elements of trap in a Focalistic-like evolution of the way lyrics have entered the genre. Featuring the “Nkao Tempela” hitmaker Ch’cco in a boundary pushing tribute to ‘piano past present and future, this production’s instrumental finesse, soulful skats and percussion is unmatched, with Ta Skipper (who played guitars for the iconic Lucky Dube) showing out on immaculate strings, making sure the quarter hour journey is worth every step. 

Soa Mattrix, Lee Mckrazy
“iPiano Selifikile”

Soa Mattrix’s Sounds of Africa album brought him well deserved respect, helping him come to the fore as the man who provided a great foundation for vocal powerhouses Sir Trill, Soulful G, Hulumeni and  Mashudu. With a great album co-produced with DJ Maphorisa’s midas touch in Tintswalo, one can’t help but look back on Sounds of Africa to relive the gems that helped him rise to prominence. “iPiano Selfikile” is a well-balanced, addictive party starter of a track that will stay with you into the new week if you take the time to wrap your tongue around Lee McKrazy’s call-and-response creations.

Heavy K, Aymos

Although Heavy K’s entrance into amapiano is recent, he grasps the genre with both hands, adding his own signature percussive prowess on Respect The Drumboss 2021 – and respect him we should. Chock-full of amapiano hitmakers in Boohle, Bassie, Malumnator and Sino Msolo, this combo of Afro-house and amapiano is dynamic, brave and a beautiful way to showcase the versatility of our artists in the genre and beyond, with Aymos’ vocal on “Kahle” interweaved with uplifting guitars and whistles. 

DJ Sumbody, Drip Gogo, The Lowkeys

The Lowkeys are an amazing act to watch, with Big Zee giving their live act an extra boost of energetic interactivity. Play this one if you’re in need of a good boost at the start of your day, as Drip Gogo’s vocals on “Iyamemeza” emblazon a rush of snares, emulating the crowing of cocks to bring in a new dawn. Listen to the trio take their chemistry further on “Ayavuma”.

Demolition Boiz, Ennkay
“Stay With Me”

Brimming with romance and longing, “Stay with Me” comes from KZN-based crew Demolition Boiz, a duo forming part of the larger Natal Piano Movement squad hoping to establish themselves amongst purveyors of the new wave. Fans of Drip Gogo will enjoy Ennkay’s silky vocal against Demo-Boiz’ log-drum leaning anthem.

Shuffle Muzik, Jay Sax
“Kasi Sax”

Shuffle Muzik has always had a penchant for impeccable arrangements, particularly on the Sgubu Sa Mapiano album, and on “Kasi Sax” he and instrumnetalist Jay Sax let this gorgeous wind instrument do all the talking. The “private school” track taps into South Africa’s strong jazz legacy, harnessing the power of Jimmy DluDlu’s “Winds of Change” for an undeniably nostalgic jam that has brought South Africans to their feet at every occasion. 

Bassie, Boohle, T-Man SA

Producer T-Man SA has been hard at work this year, peaking particularly with his work on Bassie’s debut, Msholokazi. Teaming up with singer-songwriter Boohle, who is undoubtedly the most in-demand wordsmith on the scene at the moment, tag-teaming with the likes of Njelic, Mpura, Ntokzin and Josiah De Disciple, “Sizani” is an ode to DJs everywhere when it’s time to show our music maestros a little love.

Caltonic SA, DJ Buckz, Thabz Le Madonga
“Super Star”

Caltonic has been a key producer on the scene, working with Davido, Master KG and Makhadzi, more recently taking up a track off the very first amapiano compilation to reach European shores in NTS’ Amapiano Now. Caltonic SA’s “Super Star” builds anticipation right from the start with a minimalistic, yet captivating approach. 

De Mogul SA, Gaba Cannal, Michell

One of amapiano’s pioneering producers, Gaba Cannal teams up with Mafikeng-hailing producer De Mogul SA and Zimbabwean vocalist Michell Faith for a banger-ballad with a catchy hook. “MaLavo” (as in “my love”) is charming and zestful with a balance of English and isiZulu sweet nothings.

Blaqnick, MasterBlaq, Kucka, Kyliembailey
“Honey (B&M Revisit)”

What started out as a TikTok duet between beatmaker Kučka and California vocalist Kylie Bailey has been beautifully transformed in this Blaqnick & Masterblaq revisit. Nicolas “Blaqnick” Maloka, affectionately known as “the black superman” is also known for his work on DBN Gogo’s “Khuza Gogo” and “The Whistling Man” with Uncle Jo. With his brother Masterblaq’s at his side, the two are unstoppable in their creativity.

Amu Classic, Kappie, Djy Jaivane, Mashudu

Vocalist Mashudu hits all the right notes on this rousing production with DJ Jaivane, one of the most respected beatmasters to emerge in amapinao’s earliest days. If this melodic track does it for you, catch DJ Jaivane doing a mix all his own on Groove Cartel’s Youtube channel to see the man himself in action for a full hour.

Mas Musiq, Young Stunna, Bongza, Nkulee501, Skroef 28
“Ntwana Yam”

Young Stunna has done a great job of establishing himself this year, with a full length album in Notumato released under Kabza’s Piano Hub stable, along with a string of enjoyable features. Mas Musiq continues to endear audiences everywhere with his agile productions, and  “Ntwana Yam” is a deliciously proud and assertive track, full of emotion that is both energising and romantic. 

MDU aka TRP, Kabza De Small

Kabza De Small has spent the year releasing high quality music at alarming volumes as both a solo act as as well as one half of Scorpion Kings, and in the Pretty Girls Love Amapiano Vol 3 long play he teams up with Mdu aka TRP for a gritty 50 track offering that makes it hard to pick just one track for the spotlight. The truth is, Mduduzi “MDU aka TRP” Mangena has been a major player in the scene for years, as a defining voice in the genre’s growth. In this interview with kwaito pioneer Oskido, Kabza explains how MDU was the first to introduce the log drum to the amapiano sound – and the perfectly produced “Louder” speaks for itself, encouraging higher decibels and a raised bar for the genre.

Mr JazziQ, Mellow & Sleazy, M.J, Djy Ma’Ten, Matute Boy

With the experience and skill of JazziQ, this trio makes for a wonderful match, with a vocal that emulates the sirens of South Africa’s police force. 10111 is the local emergency number no one will call when this track comes on after curfew as Mellow & Sleazy continue to decimate all doubts with their star-studded releases in “Bopha”, “Nkao Tempela”, “16 Days No Sleep”, “Zwonaka” and their EP Kwa Kwa

Tee Jay, ThackzinDj, Thabiso Lavish, Dlala Thukzin, Mpura, Nkosazana Daughter, Rascoe Kaos, Moscow

With a full house on the track, “Amacala” was intended for release much later in the year, but due to the sudden passing of renowned vocalist Mpura, the track was released early to pay tribute to one of amapiano’s greats. 

Unlimited Soul, DBN Gogo
“After Breakdown”

While this one isn’t available on streaming platforms apart from Youtube yet, “After Breakdown” sees DBN Gogo flex her production muscle alongside Unlimited Soul after their 5 track EP, Break Through. The two make use of sound and silence here for a track that is exceptionally hard to stand still to. As Gogo becomes the latest curator for Boiler Room’s Johannesburg partnership with Ballantine’s True Music studios, we hope there is more where this track came from!

Musketeers feat AzMo

“Danko” is Namibia-hailing trio Musketeers’ latest production with vocalist AzMo, drumming up tons of support from across the Southern stretch of the continent. Roughly translating to “thank you”, “Danko” is quickly approaching their goal of 1 million views, with DJ JOJO, DJ Zonesh and DJ Skull creating a catchy trifecta that is said to soon be remixed by Focalistic.

Listen to the selection in our Spotify and Deezer playlist.