(In August) British singer Jorja Smith posted “Piano to the World” – a popular catchphrase used by South African amapiano artistes to symbolise a desire to take the genre global – on social media, as a caption to her latest single “All of This”, which features Ghanaian producer Guilty Beatz.
After an initial collective burst of excitement that a global artiste had endorsed the Amapiano movement, this joy quickly dissipated when South Africans pressed play.
“All of This” is a watered down and “Westernised” version of the so-called amapiano. It more closely resembles deep house, save for some trademark amapiano log drums.
Since then, a debate has raged across Twitter as to whether or not to embrace the moment. Many have chosen not to, viewing Jorja Smith’s decision to enlist a Ghanaian producer with no experience in the genre as a misstep.
South African DJ, DBN Gogo, who’s been at the forefront of the movement, said on Twitter: “Amapiano hasn’t even tasted the top 10 in global charts but we must allow people to come dilute and run with the sound so it can grow? What then happens to the pioneers?”
DJ Maphorisa, arguably South Africa’s most prominent producer, also weighed in with a stern warning. “If you don’t involve us, it’s not amapiano. Then trust me you can’t eat alone on amapiano, it’s a community movement but we don’t mind sharing though.”
Jorja Smith, with her superstar status, could be a vessel to expand amapiano into the UK, which is its next market for expansion, and beyond. She’s not only one of those rare artistes who connects with an eclectic pop audience, but also one who reaches out to the African continent as well as the diaspora and forms a connection.
Her star-making moment came in 2017 when she was the voice behind Drake’s remake of South African DJ Black Coffee’s hit single “Superman”, while her biggest hit to-date – 2019’s “Be Honest” – features Burna Boy; so we are well acquainted with her in Africa.
The immediate backlash from prominent South African amapiano artistes has made it crystal clear that it’s unacceptable at this point in time for anyone, even a globally recognised artiste like Jorja Smith, to co-opt the genre without “paying dues”.
This means not only crediting its originators accordingly, but also reaching out and collaborating with its producers and artistes who know the intricacies and technicalities of the genre better than anyone else.
South African producer Kooldrink, who produced one of the biggest amapiano songs of 2020 – “Getting Late” – for South African newcomer vocalist Tyla, felt “All of This” was a lacklustre attempt at amapiano.
“It’s always difficult to put an opinion out on something so subjective,” he tells The Africa Report. “But personally, I want to love the song because I’m in love with what it could have been. As it is – I’m not a fan. It feels and sounds like an attempt at the work that 100s of South African artistes and producers call their bread and butter. This is not/was not amapiano. I’d love to give it to them, but I can’t.”
Shaping the narrative
“Getting Late”, with its English vocals (which is a rarity for the genre) and pop sonics, had much of the crossover appeal that Jorja Smith would’ve aimed for, and made some strides with, in Europe and beyond.
A couple of weeks ago (a day after Jorja released “All of This”), Kooldrink released an official amapiano remix of Ed Sheeran’s smash hit “Bad Habits”. That process and outcome has earned plaudits for unfolding the way many local artistes would’ve hoped “All of This” had unfolded.
“Ed and his team heard ‘Getting Late’ when that storm was happening, and it was said that he wanted a similar sound. His team got in touch and let us know that they were looking to be vessels for the amapiano sound. My only job right now is to get the sound to all corners of the world, and that means collaborating with more international artistes and being at the forefront of this movement.”
Of course, any artiste is free to make whatever music they want to make, but as with Afrobeats, the expectation is that the originators are involved in taking the music to the world. Kooldrink shares similar sentiments. “This is a genre in its infancy. As the originators, we need to be afforded the opportunity to shape the narrative of the genre before exporting.”
“In my eyes, being an artiste with the scope and reach of Jorja Smith, the decision to employ a producer without the right credentials was made in ignorance. It (takes) one phone call to South Africa to get the right artiste on the job. It does also show this contorted idea that the West has (about) Africa being this one big, vast land where everything/everyone is the same. Ghana, South Africa, amapiano? The same.”
This should serve as both a wake-up call and a call to action for South Africa’s amapiano artistes – sleep and the genre will be exported and appropriated by Western artistes without your involvement.
For what it’s worth, it does appear that Jorja Smith and her team have sought to remedy the matter after DJ Maphorisa said on Twitter that the files to the song had been sent to him and he would be “fixing it”.Not all is lost. – Excerpted from The Africa Report