During the lockdown hits like Kabza De Small’s “Sponono” featuring Afrobeats kings Burna Boy and Wizkid made Amapiano’s explosion on the world stage inevitable.

Amapiano grew its international reach even further when Davido featured on Focalistic’s “Ke Star” remix. Vocalist Sha Sha topped off the genre’s international moment in this era by bagging the “Best New International Act” award at the 2020 BET Awards.

Collaborations and accolades like these kicked off Amapiano’s fusion with genres like Afrobeats and took South Africa’s township sound to a new level.

Amapiano was already growing by the time March 2020 COVID-19 restrictions hit South Africa and the rest of the world. It more than doubled its 34 million Spotify streams in 2019 to 102 million by the end of the first year of lockdown. Pandemic-induced separation caused a countrywide craving for connection. Live-music events were banned, so artists couldn’t tour or perform.

Four years before South Africa’s first lockdown, less than half of the country owned smartphones. By the end of 2019, this number rose to 92%. More people than ever before were connecting to the internet. Even though data costs were high, mobile internet use grew as the 18-to-24-year-olds who predominantly use social media in South Africa spent more time online. This has translated to the streaming industry, too, where 84% of all Amapiano streams on Spotify are on mobile, and 18-to-24-year-olds account for 40% of all Amapiano streams. 

Social media dance challenges that emerged in 2020 like the #Johnvuligatechallenge, JazziDisciples dance challenge, and the #Amanikinikichallenge marked key moments when youth culture connected with and amplified the genre through social media.

This moved the genre from its underground club roots and across South Africa when commercial radio picked it up. Dancer and Amapiano hitmaker Kamo Mphela says, “Music doesn’t move without dance. I don’t think both can exist without each other.”

Before Amapiano entered the streaming era, artists got their music out however they could. “We were selling CDs hand to hand,” says DJ and music producerDBN Gogo. Artists tapped into social media to brand themselves, share new tracks, and sell merchandise. But monetizing their work remained a challenge.

Pandemic restrictions on live events meant many artists lost their income. Some resorted to loans or selling their equipment to make ends meet. And young emerging musicians were worse off because they didn’t have the networks or the savings to support themselves.

Amapiano artists found new spaces for their music to thrive—think Major League DJz Amapiano live balcony mix. Kabza De Small and DJ Maphorisa had to cancel the highly anticipated Scorpion Kings live show in 2020, so they launched PianoHub TV to keep the vibes going.