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In Session: Scorpion Kings (DJ Maphorisa & Kabza De Small)

Pioneering duo Scorpion Kings share a flawless mix of Amapiano, the South African sound that's taken off as an international phenomenon

  • Patrick Hinton
  • 14 April 2021

Ancient archeological studies have found evidence of a King Scorpion: not the mythological human-beast-and-dodgy-CGI-hybrid Hollywood created, but a ruler who united the divided kingdoms of ancient Egypt and helped found a formidable legacy that stretched on for millennia. More recently across the other end of the continent, the South African duo Scorpion Kings are building their own unifying legacy fuelled by the power of music.

The joining of forces of DJ Maphorisa and Kabza De Small was always going to be next level. Each artist has risen up as a pioneer in South Africa’s booming dance music scene, working across styles developed in the country such as Kwaito, gqom, and most recently - and most successfully - Amapiano, the musical movement that was born in townships and is now taking off as an international phenomenon.

Read this next: The beautiful chaos of Amapiano, South Africa's emerging house movement

DJ Maphorisa, the older of the two at 33, has been topping charts since the release of 2013 single 'Y-Tjukutja', as a member of Uhuru, and has co-production credits on hits like Drake’s ‘One Dance’ and Major Lazer’s ‘Particula’ to his name. 28-year-old Kabza De Small released his debut album ‘Avenue Sounds’ in 2016 and since then grown from strength to strength: his 2020 album ‘I am The King of Amapiano: Sweet and Dust’ is heralded as a contemporary classic, gaining eight million streams in its opening fortnight on Apple Music alone, making it the most streamed South African album in history according to the platform.

Both artists have played a pivotal role in popularising Amapiano, and since uniting as Scorpion Kings in 2019, they’ve become global figureheads of the sound. Three chart-topping albums arrived in their first two years together: ‘Scorpion Kings’ and ‘Return of Scorpion Kings’ in 2019, and ‘Scorpion Kings Live’ last year. For their newest album ‘Rumble In The Jungle’, the duo linked up with SAMA-winning Afropop star TRESOR for 14 tracks of nonstop Amapiano anthems.

Read this next: Scorpion Kings collaborate with TRESOR on new album 'Rumble In The Jungle'

The cover art, designed by Beyoncé collaborator Hedi Xandt, depicts the three artists as the divine trinity Memnon, a mythologised African king who battled Achilles at the gates of Troy and was known as the father of Thor, the Norse God of Thunder, and the true identity of the Egyptian Pharaoh Amenophis, who ruled the united kingdoms of Upper and Lower Egypt two thousand years on from King Scorpion’s theorised reign.

Scorpion Kings are flying the flag for unity in Africa and the music industry. ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ combines sounds and languages from across the continent, with TRESOR describing it as “a bold statement of pride in the diversity of our culture as Africans, embracing the rich musical landscape of our home.” And they also preach the importance of artistic independence and empowerment through collective unity, owning all of their masters, and encouraging their peers to maintain control of their music.

To mark the release of ‘Rumble In The Jungle’, we spoke to DJ Maphorisa about the rise of Amapiano and staying independent, and Scorpion Kings made a flawless mix showcasing the Amapiano sound. Read and listen below.

When did you first decide to work together as Scorpion Kings and what made you want to collaborate?

We obviously had heard of each other prior to meeting up, but I [Maphorisa] had booked Kabza for one of my shows, and soon after that we linked up, hit the studio and created magic. We then decided to make loads of music and that was really the birth of the partnership between the two of us.

What made you want to work with TRESOR on the new album and what qualities do you think he brings to your sound?

Lockdown! Haha, it provided for an opportunity to sit and just make some good music. He brings amazing vocals to the beats, his voice is so unique and it works so well with the sounds we made.

How has the pandemic affected your work and the dance music scene in South Africa?

If anything, it’s made us work harder. Everyone has been down for so long because of the lockdown and the pandemic, so it brings us joy to know that our music is bringing some happiness to people, wherever they are in the world.

Read this next: The year of no gigs

‘Rumble In The Jungle’ features lyrical content sung in Swahili and Lingala, which are lingua franca languages spoken commonly across certain regions of Africa. What informed the decision to include vocals in different languages?

This project was made to celebrate Africa and Amapiano, so it was important to then include and represent the various different languages spoken throughout Africa.

What other influences and inspirations informed the making of the album?

We were really just inspired by the African sound as a whole.

Read this next: Dwson symbolises the unified future of South African electronic music

You’ve both worked across a range of sounds. What draws you to Amapiano?

Amapiano is a very versatile genre, it always you to play with different sounds and voices on it. It can be chilled and jazzy, or high-beat and funky. We enjoy that because we get to explore and stretch out our skills.

Amapiano is spreading out from South Africa as a global dance movement. How does it feel to see the sound taking off and what are your hopes for its future?

It is amazing! It’s a proudly South African sound, and seeing the rest of the world enjoying it is the biggest goal. Everything we do is to bring people together to enjoy the music.

South Africa has been a fruitful birthplace for dance music movements, with styles such as Kwaito, gqom, Sgubhu and Amapiano invented there. Why do you think the country produces so many pioneering artists?

There are so many different cultures within South Africa, and music is the best story-teller, and as Africans, we love to move, so I think it all just translates into iconic movements.

The quality of dance music coming out of South Africa is pretty peerless at the moment. How does it feel to be involved in the scene currently?

It’s great, especially because of the various versions of dance that are forming and standing alone as their own genres across the world. For example, we wouldn’t categorize Amapiano as dance music, we see it as its own stand-alone genre.

Read this next: Africa Is Not A Jungle: How Black Coffee is leading a music industry revolution

What are the relationships across different genres and artists in your experience - is there unity across scenes?

There is unity in the Amapiano space because every artist understands the power of collaboration. It is so much easier to thrive as a unit than individually. There’s enough space for everyone.

Streaming has started taking off in South Africa in recent years, and services like Spotify and Apple Music have dedicated spotlights in the Made In South Afica playlist and Isgubhu platform. What impact has this had on the SA scene and artists?

These platforms have allowed for our music to reach global audiences, and even different audiences within South Africa that we would’ve regularly never tapped into. These platforms make it easier to find our music as well, so they are great at boosting the sound.

Read this next: No more 4x4: How sounds from the Global South stopped club culture stagnating

‘Rumble In The Jungle’ is distributed via Platoon, meaning you, the artists, own the masters. Is it important for you to retain full control over the rights of your music?

Absolutely.

What are the benefits of being an independent artist?

The power to make the final decisions in your career. From deciding when you want to drop, to how much you want to invest in a project, to who you decide to work with. It’s the freedom of control.

Read this next: In Session: DJ Lag

Can you tell us about your In Session mix.

We wanted to showcase all the different Amapiano sounds that we have here in South Africa. The mix consists of music made by fresh new artists, and the tunes that are keeping South Africa rocking, and of course some 'Rumble In The Jungle'.

Scorpion Kings & TRESOR's 'Rumble In The Jungle' is out now, get it here

Patrick Hinton is Mixmag's Digital Editor, follow him on Twitter

Tracklist:
1. Gumbaya (Kelvin Momo’s Soulful Piano Remix) – Kelvin Momo
2. LiYoshona (Main Mix) – Kwiish SA ft Njelic, MalumNator & De Mthuda
3. Superman – DJ Stokie ft Kabza De Small, Masterpiece YVK & Madumane
4. Vula Mlomo – Musa Keys ft Sir Trill & Nobantu Vilakazi
5. Folasade – Kabza De Small, DJ Maphorisa &TRESOR
6. Rabaki – Semi Tee & Mdu aka TRP ft Kopzz Avenue & Mogomotsi Chosen
7. Khuza Gogo – DBN Gogo, Blaqnik & MasterBlaq ft Mpura, Ama Avenger & M.J
8. Ngwana Mani – Felo Le Tee ft Madumane, Mpura, Kabza De Small & Visca
9. Catalia – Junior De Rocka & Lady Du ft Mr JazziQ, Mellow & Sleazy
10. Umsebenzi Wethu – Busta 929 & Mpura ft Zuma, Mr JazziQ, Lady Du & Reece Madlisa

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