Whether it’s house or techno, Black electronic music has been at the forefront of popular culture for decades, often with the Black musicians and communities behind it rarely afforded the credit for actually birthing it. The tides, however, are slowly changing, thanks in part to social media making it easier to credit creators and discover new sounds.
One such sound that began to gain international traction around 2019 is Amapiano—or, as it’s also affectionately referred to by its people in South Africa, ‘piano (which also reflects the literal Zulu translation). Amapiano—a blend of percussive loop samples and melodic, energetic vocals, deep house and jazz—is arguably the biggest sound coming out of the continent right now, with the likes of Burna Boy, Wizkid and Davido all collaborating with its artists and even taking them on global tours. This increased awareness has helped shine a light on the rich and ever-evolving musical legacy of South Africa, a nation where music has been integral not only in soundtracking major historical events, but also in forming Black national identity and culture post-Apartheid.
Someone who has been instrumental to the genre’s growth for the last couple of years is 22-year-old Lungelihle Zwane, more commonly known as the DJ/producer Uncle Waffles. Since shooting to international stardom following a viral clip late last year, Zwane has since performed at a string of sold-out shows—at home and, more recently, here in the UK—and is here to prove that she is more than just an internet sensation. With a laser focus on building her brand, and with all eyes currently on Amapiano, the woman who describes herself as ‘awkward’ is intent on doing things her own way.
We caught up with Uncle Waffles to discuss internet trolls, that “surreal” Drake follow on Instagram, the future of Amapiano, and more.
“I’ve learnt to trust myself and the hard work I put in, and remember that I’m not where I am by mistake.”
COMPLEX: Congratulations on a sold-out UK and Ireland tour with Piano People! What was it like going on the first Amapiano all-star tour this country has ever seen, for a sound that is relatively new to this market?
Uncle Waffles: Thank you! I’m feeling so blessed, but also tired. This was my first ever time in the UK, let alone for a booking. The headline show at Ministry Of Sound sold out two weeks before the event, so it was such a pleasant surprise to see how much love Amapiano is getting and how much of an appetite and appreciation there is in every city we’ve been to. Seeing people singing along is such a surreal feeling, especially when in some cases they don’t even know what it means; especially when DJs directly from South Africa are more likely to play the specialist stuff that is less known as opposed to the commercial ones that are more widely available. I think, as the sound grows around the world, producers and DJs from around the world will bring in their influences and tastes and create Amapiano with their own flavour.
You shot to fame when a clip of you DJing at a gig in Soweto, South Africa, went viral last year—which, in turn, has triggered a set of events that have led to international recognition, as well as a follow from Drake. How did it lead up to that?
Nothing was planned, but it all happened at the right time. I’m originally from Swaziland—a small country neighbouring South Africa—and there isn’t much of a creative scene there, maybe two or three gigs a year at best, so I had to work in South Africa to develop my career. The people who have now become part of my team were hosting a show and invited me to come over and DJ; they had originally given me a slot of 6.30pm, which is a horrible time. I had another show that day, too, but after a flurry of cancellations, I ended up covering somebody. I was terrified, because not only was it my first big event in South Africa, it was sold-out too.
At what point did you realise you’d gone viral off a thirty-minute set?
My management had recorded the entire set and I posted one of the clips randomly, not thinking anything of it on the following Saturday afternoon—thinking it might do 50,000 views at most, if that. I checked my phone a couple of hours later and saw it was in the hundreds of thousands, but this was all online and I was still going about my daily business so it didn’t really sink in. It was when I woke up the next day to see that Drake had followed me, that I thought he had done it by accident so I just didn’t tell anybody for a couple of hours in case he unfollowed [laughs]. Everything felt surreal until I started to see tangible things, like bookings and enquiries.