Monday, June 20, 2022



June 20, 2022

The Genre-Bending World of Amapiano, South Africa’s Township House Music

You can’t not dance when amapiano comes on.

Sports presenter and musician Selema Masekela is obsessed with amapiano, a genre of South African genre of house music.
Sports presenter and musician Selema Masekela is obsessed with amapiano, a genre of South African genre of house music. PORTRAIT: DASHAUNAE MARISA; PHOTO ILLUSTRATION: A√ŹDA AMER/ATLAS OBSCURA

Secret Obsessions is Atlas Obscura’s new column in which we ask wondrous people to take us down a rabbit hole. As told to Atlas Obscura Editorial Fellow Sarah Durn.


It was like the whole crowd was moving in unison. The dancing was joyful, expressive, with a bit of bravado, like the dancers were telling the story of the music with their bodies, their faces. And the music, it felt both distinct and familiar, like this incredible fusion of traditional South African township music, but over extremely technical and super-melodic electronic beats. From the grit and essence of the townships comes this beautiful, endless melodic space for electronic music. This was the form’s newest iteration, this was amapiano. And it was fire.

Mouth-watering smells of street food wafted through the throngs of dancing bodies. It was December 30, 2019, and I was at the Joburg AFROPUNK festival with some friends, some of whom had never been to South Africa before. The music at the festival sits at the intersection of all South African music, from more traditional music to punk rock to electronic to even American artists. And it all happens in downtown Johannesburg—10,000 South Africans all dancing and vibing in one place.

In 2005, AFROPUNK held its first festival in Brooklyn. It has since grown into a worldwide phenomenon: Paris, London, Atlanta, Johannesburg, and more cities around the world.
In 2005, AFROPUNK held its first festival in Brooklyn. It has since grown into a worldwide phenomenon: Paris, London, Atlanta, Johannesburg, and more cities around the world. STEPHANIE KEITH/GETTY IMAGES
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The first time I went to AFROPUNK, a global pop-up festival featuring art, fashion, music, and film by Black artists, was in Brooklyn. I was blown away. I remember how distinctly freeing it was to be in an environment that featured Black music and Black culture, but not in a sort of monolithic manner. The media often places Black music into very specific boxes: There’s R&B, hip-hop, rap. But the great thing about AFROPUNK is that it’s all the things in between, all the different layers between the boxes people think Black culture exists in. It allows for the entirety and wide array of our various and unique interests as human beings in the midst of our Blackness.

So here I was at Joburg AFROPUNK watching these kids dancing; I mean, you can’t listen to amapiano and not move. But after the set ended, the festival just rolls right on into the next artist. I had no idea who or what I had just heard. I didn’t know what it was called or if there were other artists out there doing a similar thing.

AFROPUNK—seen here in its 2017 iteration in Johannesburg—is a global music, art, film, and fashion festival featuring Black artists.
AFROPUNK—seen here in its 2017 iteration in Johannesburg—is a global music, art, film, and fashion festival featuring Black artists. © RED BULL MEDIA HOUSE

After the festival, I looked up the DJ on Spotify and started poking around at similar artists on Spotify. That’s when I started to realize that this wasn’t a one-off. This wasn’t just an off-shoot of kwaito, a South African house music genre from the 1990s. All these songs all had this distinct rhythm with these instrumental tracks that ride the beat. Any lyrics are sung in traditional South African languages. And the artists layer beats on beats on beats but somehow, in the end, it all just fits.

Months after AFROPUNK in Joburg, I asked my younger South African cousin, who’s really into the music scene there. “Yo! I’ve been listening to this. What is this?”

“Oh yeah. No, no, man, that’s the new thing. That’s the next thing. It was born from kwaito. It’s amapiano.”

It had a name, I was hooked. I looked up “amapiano” on Spotify and found hundreds of playlists. That’s still how I find different artists or songs. There’s a song called “Bella Ciao”—that’s my present obsession. There’s this other Kvng Vinci song that takes the theme from Squid Game and makes it the hook of this song called “Squid Game Amapiano.” It’s fire! Then there’s this other artist that I love right now called Musa Keys. I follow him on Instagram and seeing the way kids are just losing it at his shows, the way he performs, the dances that he does, it’s just super cool.

Just two months ago, someone sent me a DM and was like, “Yo, you have to listen to this song. It’s got your name in it!” That’s actually how I discovered Musa Keys, through his song “Selema (Po Po).” I was like, “Woah! My name is the hook of this song.” And it’s a huge song on the continent and in South Africa. There was like a “Selema” dance challenge at one point. And my name isn’t common. The only people I know with my name, other than my grandfather who passed away, is my cousin. I don’t really know if the song is about me, but I also don’t know who else it might be about.

In 2012, Selema Masekela and his childhood friend Sunny Levine released their first album as the band Alekesam.
In 2012, Selema Masekela and his childhood friend Sunny Levine released their first album as the band Alekesam. COURTESY JACKIE KRONICK

It’s just so inspiring to witness this movement. I have an immense amount of pride knowing that that’s where I come from. I didn’t get to grow up in South Africa, but my dad named me specifically so that I could have a South African name that I could be proud of. And to hear it all echo back to me in a song feels like an acknowledgment that this place, its people and culture, will always be a part of who I am and what I’m about.

Selema Masekela is an Emmy-nominated producer, television host, sports commentator, and half of the surf R&B band Alekesam. His passion for surf culture led him to become co-founder of South African surfwear brand Mami Wata, which launched stateside in fall 2021. Under the Mami Wata brand, Selema co-published the Amazon bestseller, Afrosurf, a stunning book celebrating African surf culture.

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key to Fitzpatrick's triumph


U.S. Open 2022: The key to Matt Fitzpatrick's triumph came as a shock to his fellow pros

June 19, 2022

Matt Fitzpatrick drives from the 15th tee during the final round of the U.S. Open.

Jared Tilton

Bluntly, Matt Fitzpatrick’s slight, seemingly unathletic frame would tend to identify him as an underdog in a pillow fight with your 15-year-old. The 155-pounder makes the splndly Francis Ouimet look like Bryson DeChambeau. Even Rory McIlroy has a linebacker’s frame by comparison.

But this is golf in the 2020s, when guys can disappear into a lab, flanked by incredibly bright and motivated people, who possess the latest of high-tech gadgets, and emerge a far better player. And in Fitzpatrick’s case, as a U.S. Open champion.

If the 27-year-old Englishman, who prevailed to win his first major on Sunday, didn’t exactly overpower The Country Club the way DeChambeau did Winged Foot in 2020, he didn’t dink it around either. For the week, Fitzpatrick ranked second in the field in strokes gained/off-the-tee at 4.82—his best stat. No. 1 in that category is one of the game’s longstanding bombers and another U.S. Open champ, Gary Woodland.

It is a number significantly boosted by the fact that Fitzpatrick hit the ball far and straight. While tying for 10th in the field in driving distance at 309.20 yards, he was fifth in fairways found (70 percent) and was a machine on Sunday, reaching the short stuff on 11 holes en route to hitting 17 greens in regulation. So this was not “bomb and gouge.” It was bomb and birdie. Fitzpatrick scored in the red a field-best 19 times over the 72 holes, including 4-for-4 efforts on the short par-4 fifth and the par-5 eighth.

Believe us, the players are beginning to take note of Fitzpatrick’s power. Why? Because only three years ago, he ranked 151st on the PGA Tour in driving distance. This year, he’s 63rd, having gained 12 yards. In a stat for which people are often separated by tenths of yards, that’s a lot.

“Tip of the hat to Fitzy. He's been playing really good golf, and he definitely deserved to win this event,” Scottie Scheffler said. “I don't know if you guys noticed, but I feel like he has made some extreme improvements off the tee in a matter of months.

“I played with him in Austin this year, and he was not hitting it nearly as far as he is now. I don't know what he was doing. Maybe he was on the Bryson program or something.”

When Scheffler’s praise and quote about DeChambeau was relayed to Fitzpatrick in his own press conference, he flashed his braces, laughed and and offered, “I’ve done my drug test, and it was negative, so we’re all good.”

In reality, the gains have come from some from painstaking work with some brainiac stuff thrown in. Fitzpatrick explained that he was been working with his coach, Mike Walker, and biomechanist Sasho Mackenzie on a system called The Stack. Without diving too deep, it uses a speed stick and an app to improve sequencing and swing speed.

“I’ll be honest, it’s worked wonders,” Fitzpatrick said Sunday.

If there was a hole in the final round that displayed Fitzpatrick’s newfound power, it was the 561-yard par-5 eighth. Hs striped his drive 288 yards on a string, and while playing partner Will Zalatoris chose to lay up, Fitzpatrick chose 3-wood and chased it 267 yards to nearly pin-high on the green. From there, he made a tap-in birdie while Zalatoris could only manage par. And as we know, Zalatoris, along with Scheffler, lost by a single shot.

“I feel like maybe three years ago if I was in this position … and I was playing with Will in the final group, I'd be concerned that I'm going to be 15, 20 [yards] behind him,” Fitzpatrick said. “And I felt comfortable all day that I was going to be past him—which, to me, gives me confidence, obviously going into the next shot knowing that you've got less club.”

Then Fitzpatrick uttered two sentences he’d never have dreamed when he first turned pro: “There's a bit of a mentality thing that when you're hitting it past people, it's quite nice.”