Amapiano Style

Is there a specific look that characterises this uniquely South African sound? 

Currently taking the world by storm, Amapiano is shaped by local subculture identities, and its street-inspired style is following suit.

Written by Jabulile Dlamini-Qwesha

Amapiano is one of South Africa’s unique strands of electronic music shaped by local subculture identities.

Musical subcultures like these – including gqom, sgubhu, sjokojoko and bacardi – capture the essence of township groove cultures across the country and more often than not, go on to shape global mainstream popular culture. While it may be easier to tell the sounds apart and attribute them to a locale, it’s much more complicated to decipher a look that can be attributed to any one genre. 

Perhaps a better inquisition would be to consider the style elements of these subcultures as a detailed representation of the nuances of South African street culture. Although street culture is usually associated with “hypebeasts” – skater types who wear Yeezy and Supreme – in a South African sense, we can see links between the choice in clothes and the sound or movement associated with the genre, that goes beyond the purely aesthetic.

Amapiano borrows heavily from kwaito in its sonic make-up. A sound that emerged from Soweto in response to South Africa’s new democracy, kwaito is characterised by deep bass lines, percussive loop samples, vocal chants or raps and a catchy melodic groove in the same way that amapiano is. Similarly, movement is as key a component in amapiano as pantsula was with kwaito. In that era, circa the 1990s, streetwear that enabled unrestricted movement and expressiveness dominated South African street style. From Converse canvas sneakers to Dickies bucket hats, golfers and chinos and Samson dungarees, a casual-cool aesthetic took over. It allowed the youth of that time to be as bold with their style choices as they were with their movement. This possibly explains why streetwear-heavy brands, whether international or homegrown, experience more popularity locally. Unlike countries where there is an established economy of runway fashion trickling down to retail and streetstyle, in South Africa, we tend to have a less prescriptive approach which takes heed from the street and popular culture.

Of course the influence of American trends can’t be overlooked: even our iconic Sophiatown era borrowed heavily from the American jazz community of that time but styles which are widely adopted have always been a stronger reflection of township youth culture. 

Even though amapiano is a culmination of existing South African pop culture references and visceral responses, it’s premised on fearless self-expression and allows space for innovation and collaboration. The genre may take much of its influence from the kwaito era – as that has formed the bedrock of contemporary strains of South African house music – but the music scene has evolved past the need for homogenous fashion senses. This is an equally dynamic time for South African fashion where South African consumers have more choice at their fingertips. Generally speaking, men’s style is mostly an ode to the old school, comprising bucket hats, beanies, canvas sneakers, Carvela moccasins, Lacoste golfers, jeans, chinos and so on, as seen on producer Jazziq. Vocalist Focalistic brings experimental-yet-minimalist military looks to his performances, which make him stand out from his peers. Kamo Mphela also notably had a total of six looks put together by local designer Nao Serati in her new video for the song Thula Thula: visuals that will most likely challenge the status quo of music videos being casual re-enactments of party scenes with minimal storytelling and zero wardrobe changes.

The influx of successful women artists who put as much into their fashion expression as they do into their performances is already changing the game. DJ and Producer DBN Gogo is known for her incredible sets as well as her immaculate style. From her striking hairstyles to her outfits and acrylic nail sets, her looks are always memorable, which may also be a contributing factor to how often videos of her performances go viral online. We have started to see more of her male counterparts paying more attention to their style details: like how Kabza De Small was recently spotted in a look with the latest Rick Owen boots, a step up from his usual golfer and jeans combo. 

Young artists in the South African music scene are finding fresh ways to express themselves through style and rework throwback looks. Even as conservative as our greater population may be at times, there is more room for experimentation than there has ever been before. The perfect balance for finding your style influence within amapiano is starting with the classics and then pushing your boundaries with bolder innovations.