HIVE COLLABORATION #01: Collaboration is the formula for success, but how much is too much? - An Amapiano Case Study

Collaboration, a double-edged sword, must align with a purpose. Embracing diverse sounds without dilution ensures an enduring genre. The Amapiano journey must continue, with a focus on preserving authenticity and cultivating lasting fandom

HIVE COLLABORATION #01: Collaboration is the formula for success, but how much is too much? - An Amapiano Case Study

Collaboration through the Lens of Emerging Music Scenes part 1

By Srishti Das

Contributor: Michelle Yuen

Edited by Mayuyuka Kaunda

Collaborations have actively enhanced creativity, broadened sonic identities and ultimately resulted in more dynamic, enriched musical experiences for artists and their audiences alike. They’ve also been beneficial to labels and other stakeholders in the music industry. One of the most significant collaborations in recent times - between Skrillex, Fred Again and Four Tet - serves as a great example of how artists from similar backgrounds but with different sensibilities and levels of popularity can unite their fandoms at scale. Moreso, this collaboration has introduced the traditionally niche Four Tet to the mainstream, enabled Fred Again to strengthen his footing in the Dance Music arena and helped relaunch Skrillex to his pre-hiatus heights.

Through this initiative, these three artists have created authentic content and reaped success by bringing people together. By constantly collaborating in the studio, on social media or on stage, they’ve instantly removed the barriers between niche and mainstream fans. They have also closed out Coachella 2023 on the main stage, making history as the first electronic music trio to do so, in addition to selling out Madison Square Garden and other major venues worldwide. It’s clear that collaboration has played an essential role in this trio’s newfound success.

But now, let's look at a different case study heavily based on collaboration, where the genre's future could heavily depend on its future collaboration strategies - Amapiano.

The Amapiano Dilemma

Tyler ICU and Tumelo ZA’s Mnike has emerged as one of the biggest hits in Amapiano since its inception in the 2010s, reaching three million streams on Spotify in a month and crossing ten million views over three. The track features DJ Maphorisa, Nandipha808, Ceeka RSA & Tyron Dee, and the big question is, ‘How much of the song’s success leads back to the leading names Tyler ICU and Tumelo ZA?’ Another question in an already fragmented streaming economy - ‘Has Mnike carved out a space for these artists to garner recognition?’

If new amapiano artists constantly collaborate, the output is low from a catalogue-size point of view. It means the genre's popularity in the live circuit is growing much faster than the development of artists or the genre. It’s a misconception that when many artists are in the studio together, they build their catalogues quicker and better. Better comes from the idea, the song's vision, what it is created and for whom. When a genre is new, only the release of music matters, but as it grows, the expectations for quality of songwriting, production and everything in between only increase among fanbases. Fans grow attached and want to grow as their favourite artists grow. They want to be wowed more with every release; it is the backbone of their musical fandom.

The lack of a sonic identity fragments artists' listenership and fandom

In the fragmentation of fandom and over-saturation of music on streaming platforms, the music that cuts through the clutter stands out more than ever from a sonic perspective. While Amapiano caters to a new sound cutting through the fragmentation of House and Dance Music, very few artists have managed to have a unique sonic and personal identity due to the collaborations between three and, in some cases, even seven artists. In fact, a recent study by Chartmetric looked at all Amapiano songs released on Spotify between January 2020 and December 2022. It found that 70% of these songs featured collaborations between two or more artists.

A new Amapiano artist often starts through collaborations rather than setting their sound first. Tumelo ZA from Mnike is an excellent example of this. He has four releases so far on Spotify, all of which are collaborations, including with well-known artists such as Tyler ICU. Collaborating as a new artist can be beneficial in that it introduces the artist to potential audiences but when the hype for these songs declines (which it always does), how many of his million monthly listeners will stay? This is still to be seen in the absence of a strong live circuit takeover and social media virality à la Uncle Waffles.

Frequent collaborations can rob new artists of the opportunity to showcase a unique sonic identity like Amapiano acts like Musa Keys and Kabza de Small have successfully created. A unique identity cuts through the noise and emerges through cluttered spaces. Musa Keys' vocal techniques, unique bouncy beats, fashion style, and authentic social media strategy, for instance, have resulted in his cult status. Similarly, known to be one of the pioneers of driving Amapiano culture, Kabza de Small’s homage to Kwaito and maintaining the old-school piano sounds that led to the nomenclature of the genres in his jazz-heavy sound is what has led to Kabza de Small's recent work on Drake and 21 Savage’s live tour.

Collaborations must fit a purpose; that purpose cannot only be an entry point for a new artist

Many music scenes, including hip-hop worldwide, have been very collaborative! For example, the Grime and Drill scenes in the UK are heavily based on collaborative efforts. Even when Grime artists don’t explicitly collaborate, they namedrop or appear in each other's music videos - see Dave and Burna Boy’s Location visuals where the appearances of many other artists attest to the lyrics in Dave’s second verse:

"Juss to the right, Rapz to the left / RJ in the middle, got Cee to the death"

In Stormzy & Fredo's "Toxic Trait," - Dave wasn't a featured artist but did produce the track (fans can also tell, per YT and IG comments), hence the shoutout (If your name ain't Santan, you ain't my mate) - but it's possible Stormzy would've mentioned him anyway. Fans are always aware of the friendships on and off screen through the collaborations. Each artist, be it the newly Columbia-signed Central Cee, prominent artists Dave or Stormzy or even the rising Aitch, everyone has their unique style. When you hear a song, the sonic familiarity makes you curious, eventually leading to new music discovery.

For its part, Amapiano songs frequently include two (or many more) artists whose sounds are indistinguishable. Thankfully, artists like Boohle, Nkosazana Daughter, Daliwonga and Young Stunna have found their prominent space in the Amapiano scene as stand-outs. They were all initially part of collaborations that showcased Amapiano’s community of artists and similarly inspired camaraderie amongst fans. These breakout stars managed to separate themselves from the crowd by embracing their individuality. It gets much trickier when it comes to production in Amapiano.

The tendency for producers to collaborate in the same way Amapiano artists do has had interesting consequences. Having multiple producers on a record without explicit, clear sections that increase the audience’s sonic familiarity with each producer is dangerous in a dance music genre. Over-collaboration leads to a mixing up of sounds and doesn’t translate into identifiable production styles. This makes it harder for fans joining the bandwagon to understand the story behind the music and creates hype-based fandom rather than a sustainable, identity-based one.

Amapiano can learn about authenticity through diversity from the Four Tet, Skrillex and Fred Again trio, and already has a playbook to follow. DJ Maphorisa and Kabza de Small formed Scorpion Kings and released many impactful records that laid down the pillars for what Amapiano is today. Another great example is the cross-genre unification of Musa Keys and Davido's through the chart-topping UNAVAILABLE. This crossover of Amapiano and Afrobeats, sees both Davido and Musa Keys shine through from a production and vocal standpoint. You can hear both artists’ influences, as Keys’ distinctive adlibs and Davido’s harmonies are layered over bass-heavy, Afrobeats-centric instrumentation. Such collaborations, which are more style-based and with a clear vision, enable songs to achieve greater reach and crossover into each artist’s audience while maintaining each artist's individual identity.

The barrier to entry increases when a scene grows faster than expected

When a music scene grows too fast, too soon, the number of aspiring artists entering the market rises significantly. This increased competition can make it harder for new artists to stand out and gain attention. When the same scene is driven by competition, finding a secure entry point becomes much harder. This accelerated growth also results in many artists and fans hopping onto the bandwagon. Once the initial hype dies out, the fanbase has nowhere to go. Sometimes, they’re left hanging and forced to fill the space with a new scene that might not sit as perfectly.

For fans, finding a scene they relate to from an identity point of view is an investment they make. If that scene dies soon after its peak, it feels like a loss. This makes it that much more important to nurture fanbases with authenticity. It is essential for artists to remember that the success of music culture is not just through the number of streams across platforms or the number of shows but also through how the ecosystem develops around the scene. Developing more managers, independent labels and A&Rs who understand the culture and storytelling behind the music activates a support system that can take the genre to new places while maintaining its authenticity.

Labels such as Rapture, distributors such as Ditto Music and Africori and management outfits such as The T-Effect & Lawk have already embarked on the journey to create stars such as the late rapper Costa Titch, Pabi Cooper and Focalistic. These artists have started to shine through and are ready for sustainable futures in the music industry. We look forward to seeing the rise of many more acts that successfully continue to take ‘Piano to the World’ for generations to come!

Listen to 'The Hive'

We have just launched our own playlist on Spotify. The playlist will be updated every week with new music from emerging markets! Tune in here.

Other exciting things this week

>> Major League DJs and Nandos! - Major League DJz was featured on DJ Mag cover and played Tomorrowland this weekend. This is the first time Amapiano was featured on either of the two. While this was bound to happen, the more exciting activity was their secret pop-up at Nando's in London. Nando's, a South African casual fast-food chain, showcases an opportunity for non-alcohol-related F&B to find a new space in music culture. Of course, this is not the first time, Korean food culture has always been synonymous with K-pop, which makes it interesting to see a new wave of brands entering the music space. For Nando's, this is interesting because this way, they are about to support a music scene from their country of origin. Additionally, could restaurants find space as a new intimate venue after hours? Who knows, time will tell. But, this is definitely an exciting new addition to music culture.

>> Jungle uses WeTransfer to release a new interactive music video and announce live shows - JUNGLE released a new interactive music video for ‘Back On 74’. The release took place in partnership with WeTransfer in an attempt to create an interactive experience unique to every viewer. Only available for 14 days exclusively via WeTransfer (get your hand on it soon!), the video sees dancers performing in an art gallery, where each piece of art (in the background) can be downloaded by viewers in real-time. Each artwork download is then replaced by a random selection of 10,000 other unique pieces (created by JUNGLE’s J Lloyd), meaning no two video views are the same. These art pieces also give fans an opportunity to win tickets to their chosen show on Jungle’s upcoming European and North American headline tour. In an era where the music industry depends on specific platforms to deliver the same content to fans worldwide, Jungle has developed a concept that is really #Direct2Fan in a way where each superfan who runs over to the link will own unique pieces of art directly from the artist. This is extremely exciting and a bigger, more modern version of the Radiohead/Nine Inch Nails x Pirate Bay/P2P services.

>> SceneNoise - How PopArabia is Transforming MENA’s Music Publishing Industry

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Srishti Das is a music industry professional focused on bringing more light from new music markets and cultures. You can reach me at to discuss collaborations, projects or to have a chat!