September 21, 2023

Piano Republik’s attention to detail is a stark reminder of the level of seriousness Major League DJz dedicated to their craft. The length of the whole project is minimal, the collaborations are well thought out, and the genres are covered. What more can you ask for?

By Emmanuel Daraloye

“This is the voice of the one, Brenda Fassie,” Bandile, one half of the music DJ ensemble, Major League DJz, announces to the predominantly white audience during one of their promotional runs for their new album, Piano Republik, at Miami, USA on Saturday, March, 25, 2023. Brenda Fassie passed on in 2004 when Bandile and Banele Mbere were only thirteen years old. “Vuli Ndlela,” Fassie’s classic cultural export, was one of the nine tracks included in Major League DJz’s latest album.

Amapiano, a deep house sub genre from South Africa, is currently on a global crescendo, and right now, the twin brothers, Major League DJz, are one of its powering forces. Having conquered South Africa, the United States-born but South Africa-raised music group are now taking Amapiano to iconic international concerts, with residencies cutting across venues in Europe and North America.

Since the release of their critically-acclaimed 2021 album, Outside, Major League DJz have gone on to break the world record for the longest DJ set performed by a duo after they performed for 75 hours for a special edition of the Balcony Mix Experience. The likes of Tems, Burna Boy, Honey Dijon, Jorja Smith, Rema, Asake, Stefflon Don, and Mr Eazi are some of the artistes who hold them in high esteem. 

Last year, Major League DJz made their Coachella debut alongside Black Coffee, and just a few months before, they had a sold out residency at London’s O2 Academy, Brixton. These moves are historic for an Amapiano DJ.

Piano Republik sounds like an attempt to crystallise the recent successes of Major League DJz. Who else to go down that road with them if not the electronic DJ trio, Major Lazer? Diplo, DJs Walshy Fire, and Ape Drums are the current members of this American-based group. Major Lazer are such an incredible music force, and with Major League DJz’s desire to break into other markets, this new sonic partnership sounds like the most marketable gesture to explore.

Major League DJz

Amapiano is renowned for its collaboration and community-conscious moves. It is rare to listen to an Amapiano record with just a solo artiste, more so if it comes from South Africa. On Piano Republik, Major League DJz explore this arc by featuring a bevy of artists who cut across Nigeria, South Africa and the United States. Dance, freak party, and life are some of the topics forming the bedrock of this album. Low-tempo bass, scattered piano melodies, pounding percussion dotted with synth, dominate this thirty-five minutes-long body of work; yet, there are instances of slight bending of the rule. Sometimes, the production is warm, in order to allow the artists’ vocals to seep in.

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On the album’s first track, “Smoking & Drinking,” Ty Dolla $ign, an R&B and Hip-Hop artiste, hops on the Amapiano wave to craft a song about sex, smoking and drinking. The topic, you might say, is peculiar to R&B and Hip-Hop; yet, the singer skillfully blends these topics to fit into the Amapiano sound. The track begins with some self hailing by Major Lazer: “I just touch down…we the hottest in the world right now…shout out to Major League DJz.”

The track is filled with scattered talk from Major Lazer, much like a hype man egging on an artiste during a performance. Like the typical Amapiano records, the lyrics are sparse. The production is allowed to swirl, and in a way, transport the listeners to the nearest dance floor. Ty Dolla $ign makes another return on the seventh track “Oh Yeah.” A pulsating R&B song, here, he swaddles in sex, and party talk.

A sleek drum and a padded piano with a sunny synth form the production of “Ke Shy,” a record by Tyla, LuuDaDeeJay, and Yumbs. On this R&B record with an Amapiano tweak, Tyla sings about a moment in the club with a shy guy. Although she seems to like him, his naivety continues to hinder them from taking it further.

While Major League DJz are on an international globetrotting tour, they carry along artistes from South Africa on this journey. A large sum of these artistes are still underground but possess unmistakable potential. A lot of information may not come up for many of them when Googled; still, you can’t ignore the gem they unleash on this track. An instance of this is Gaba Cannal & Russell Zuma on “Ngibambe.” While they sing throughout in Zulu, the melody of the song tends to draw you in. Just like the last two tracks before them, “Ngibambe” sticks to the R&B genre. Gaba Cannal & Russell Zuma call their lovers to the dance floor.

PIRE Majer Lazer 1
Major Lazer

Nigeria singer, Joeboy, explores the minimalist nature of Amapiano to score a potential hit on “Designer,” with just a verse, hook and plenty of repetition. The “Baby” singer shows off his fashion sense when he sings, “I be rockin’ my designer/Nobody flyer.”  He follows it up by informing the girl about his ‘heavy pocket.’ “I can be your provider ah/Be your sponsor.”

Produced by record exec, Don Jazzy, and Stargate, “Koo Koo Fun,” which was released in September 2022, sees Tiwa Savage cautioning an Alhaji from touching her: “Alhaji, keep your bag/Don’t come touching me (eh)/Don’t come feeling me,” Tiwa Savage subtly warns on the track’s opening lines. The dance record is accompanied by a bubbly music video which showcases a disco scene and modern African party scene.

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Vuli Ndlela,” Brenda Fassie’s 1997 classic, gets reworked, and renamed as “Mamgobhozi.” The song whose title translates to “open up the way,” or “clear the path” in Zulu, centers around hope and determination, and the zeal in continuing to fight even when the odds seem insurmountable. The lyrics are uplifting and motivational. It urges the listeners to never give up on their dreams.

South Africa-based singer, Msaki, delivers some quick, fiery verses on “Stop & Go.” The song details a relationship on the brink of breakup, with Msaki trying all she can to prevent this from happening.

Piano Republik ends with the squeaky “Higher Ground.” Boniface, one of South Africa’s emerging bright stars, gives a good account of his craft on this tune. Boniface’s delivery is sparse with the dance-filled production doing most of the magic.

Right now, Major League DJz are on a mission to spread this Amapiano fever to the international community. While at this, they have been able to carry along the continent’s brightest stars. At the same time, too, they have been able to leverage on the star power of Major Lazer.

PIRE Tracklist

Piano Republik’s attention to detail is a stark reminder of the level of seriousness Major League DJz dedicated to their craft. The length of the whole project is minimal, the collaborations are well thought out, and the genres are covered. What more can you ask for?

There is no doubt that Major League DJz & Major Lazer’s recent tour across the globe had an impactful hold on this album. They bring their knowledge to bear on this album, and in a way, crystallised their recent successes.

Lyricism – 2

Tracklisting – 1

Sound Engineering – 1

Vocalisation – 2

Listening Experience – 1

Rating: 7/10

Emmanuel Daraloye is Africa’s Most Prolific Freelance Music Critic. He has over 500 album reviews in his archive.

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