Uncle Waffles, Amapiano Princess, on her rise to DJ superstardom

Whether it’s house or techno, black electronic music has been at the forefront of popular culture for decades, often with black musicians and the communities behind it rarely giving it credit. The tides, however, change slowly, especially with the advent of social media, which makes it easier to gain credit for creators and discover new sounds.

One such sound that started gaining traction internationally around 2019 is Amapiano – or, as its locals in South Africa affectionately call it, “piano” (which also reflects the literal Zulu translation) . Amapiano – a mix of percussive looping 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 collaborating all with its artists and even take on world tours. This heightened awareness has helped shine a light on the rich and ever-evolving musical heritage of South Africa, a nation where music has been an integral part not only of the soundtrack of major historical events, but also of the formation of black national identity and culture after apartheid.

22-year-old Lungelihle Zwane, more commonly known as the DJ/producer, has been instrumental in the genre’s growth over the past two years. Uncle Waffles. Since rising to international stardom following a viral music video late last year, Zwane has since performed in a string of sold-out shows – at home and, most recently, here in the UK. Uni – and is here to prove that she is more than one internet sensation. With laser focus on building her brand, and with all eyes currently on Amapiano, the self-described “awkward” woman intends to do things her own way.

We caught up with Uncle Waffles to discuss internet trolls, what “surreal” Drake is following on Instagram, Amapiano’s future, and more.

“I’ve learned to trust myself and my hard work, and to 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 to be on Amapiano’s first all-star tour this country has ever seen, for a relatively new sound in this market?
Uncle Waffles:
Thank you! I feel so blessed, but also tired. This was my first time in the UK, let alone booking. The main show at the Ministry Of Sound sold out two weeks before the event so it was a pleasant surprise to see how much Amapiano is loved and how much appetite and appreciation there is in every city we are in gone. Seeing people singing 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 lesser known specialist stuff as opposed to commercial stuff which is more widely available. I think as the sound grows around the world, producers and DJs from all over the world will bring their influences and tastes and create Amapiano with their own flavor.

You rose to fame when a clip of you mixing at a concert in Soweto, South Africa, went viral last year, which, in turn, sparked a series of events that led to international recognition, as well as a following for Drake. How did that lead to this?
Nothing was planned, but everything happened at the right time. I’m from Swaziland – a small country neighboring South Africa – and there’s not a lot of 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 are now part of my team were hosting a show and invited me to come and DJ; they had originally given me a 6:30 pm slot which is an awful time. I also had another show that day, but after a flurry of cancellations, I ended up covering for someone. I was terrified, because not only was it my first big event in South Africa, but it was sold out.

When did you realize you had gone viral after shooting thirty minutes?
My management had taped the entire set and I randomly posted one of the clips without thinking about it the following Saturday afternoon – thinking it might get 50,000 views at most, if that. I checked my phone a few hours later and saw there were hundreds of thousands, but everything was online and I was still going about my daily business, so I didn’t really understand. It was when I woke up the next day to see that Drake had followed me, that I thought he did it by accident, so I didn’t tell anyone for a few hours just in case he would unsubscribe [laughs]. It all seemed surreal until I started seeing tangible things, like reservations and enquiries.

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