A surprise visit to the land of Amapiano
What you need to know:
- Tsweu Street in Mamelodi, Pretoria, South Africa, is a poor neighbourhood, but the number of exquisite vehicles parked on either side of the road reminded me of Kiambu Road
This is the hood of Amapiano mavens such as DJ Maphorisa, Focalistic, Bongo Beats, and Jay Sax
“Please, please bro keep your phones in your pocket”, roared my South African acquaintance in his gravelly voice.
The warning was scary.
I had my Android in the right hand and because the Apple toy shoots quality photos, it was on the left flickering everything and anything that appeared amusing in my sight.
Zkhiphani’s caution continued to echo inside my head, as I wondered what is the point of having my gadget tucked in when you are out of Kenya.
“Not here. As safe as the street may seem this place overall is called Komatanye -a place for the mentally disturbed,” he responded.
It’s Sunday afternoon and the quiet Tsweu Street in Mamelodi, Pretoria, South Africa is coming to life. The clean street runs for an eighth of a mile then splits to join other streets of the township.
On either side of Tsweu Street, commercial establishments neatly aligned as far as the street runs, are open for business.
Mamelodi is one of the poorest townships in South Africa but what baffled me is the number of entertainment joints—I counted four on Tsweu Street alone. Each bar was full with waiters running helter-skelter attending to the revellers. The music was low.
On the other side of the street is a church busy as a Kenyan church would be but without the loud noises, they are known for.
I saw two beautiful women skimpily dressed walk from the house of worship, cross the street and vanish into one of the entertainment joints. It’s a norm here, ‘thou shall not judge’ I was reminded.
The street also painted a picture of a motor yard. Despite being a poor neighbourhood the number of exquisite vehicles parked on either side of the road reminded me of Kiambu Road.
“All town crooks, the cash transits, drug peddlers come to spend their money here away from major towns where they can easily be traced. That’s why you see all these luxurious cars,” Zkhipani, a journalist, explained.
Mamelodi is infamous for crime. Shootings are a normal occurrence here; gang rivals fight every day for territorial control.
“Just last week, a gang ring leader was gunned down in broad daylight by rivals as he entered one of the bars hoping for some quality time. The poor boy didn’t even get to the door when the bullet pierced his forehead as he alighted from his white posh,” a story was narrated.
The reason I found myself in Mamelodi in the first place was the Amapiano music research tour I had been invited to by Spotify. Spotify is a digital music, podcast, and video service that gives access to songs from creators all over the world.
Mamelodi is a Sepedi word meaning mother of melodies. Despite its crime reputation, it’s one of the hoods where Amapiano has its roots.
This is the hood of Amapiano mavens such as DJ Maphorisa, Focalistic, Bongo Beats, and Jay Sax. Their rags-to-riches stories began here. I caught up with Focalistic, one of the top five exported whiz at Jack Budha restaurant here in Mamelodi.
He is one of the top five most exported Amapiano artists. On his audience list, Kenya ranks sixth in terms of streams. He has performed in Kenya too to a sold-out crowd at the Thrift Social Summer Fest in 2021.
“We would come here and listen to Amapiano sets for three hours. We wanted to escape from the noise and do our own thing as Africans, speaking in our tongue. Amapiano is spiritual, its culture, it’s a movement” he bragged.
Interesting though, on this Sunday trip I don't recount any Amapiano played in the bars apart from Kwaito music.
Groupies of men and women hosted mini parties on the road sides drinking corona beers while jamming to diBarcardi music, others danced to fantom sound. diBarcadi and fantom sub genres preceded Amapiano making a mark before social media and streaming became a thing.
But it’s my visit to the famous South Western Township -Soweto- that was memorable. This city district southwest of Johannesburg grew to symbolise the struggle against apartheid. A number of noteworthy monuments serve as reminders of an illustrious past.
Soweto is home to everybody. Beautiful affluent neighbourhoods are found here for those earning at least two million Rands a month. The middle class is here.
Just a few legs from the leafy suburbs, are the ‘hostels’. These are poor houses which were designed to shelter male migrant workers by the apartheid regime. The hostels have been inherited from generation to generation as they await the failed promises of the government to build them better homes.
Soweto is also home to the poorest of the poor harbouring around 12 million people living in shanties.
A number of famous anti-apartheid fighters spent part of their lives in Soweto. Nelson Mandela lived here for a period as did Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Both had a house on Vilakazi Street which still stands to date, making this street the only one in the world where two Nobel Laureates have lived.
Familiar to many from the countless TV appearances of his former wife Winnie, the simple brick-red ‘matchbox’ Mandela house has since been turned into a museum.
Next, I visit the Hector Pieterson museum. Every visitor visiting Soweto has to be taken to this museum. Here I fought back tears. In June 1976, there was a revolt in Soweto.
The oppressive government of the time announced that children would learn in Afrikaans instead of English stirring an uprising.
During one of the black student marches, 13-year-old Peterson was shot and killed by the police.
An iconic picture of a critically injured Peterson being whisked away by anti-apartheid activist Mbuyisa Makhubo with his sister Antoinette Sithole running beside them stands beside a fountain on your way into the museum.
Sithole still lives, Makhubo disappeared in 1979 after fleeing South Africa due to constant harassment by the security services once the pictures were released attracting the attention of the world.
The night clubbing at the Posh Konka Club where only Amapiano was played washed away my sorrows from the museum visit.
If were to relocate to South Africa, I would have to make enough to afford the lifestyle I experienced in Rosebank, Johannesburg where I stayed during this trip. There everything is posh. I mean everything.