After successful events throughout Africa and Europe, Afro Nation hit the United States. The three-day music festival celebrating Afrobeats, dancehall, hip-hop and amapiano music brought the global diaspora together at the inaugural Afro Nation Miami 2023. Headliners of this year’s festival included Burna Boy, Wizkid and hosts of upcoming artists, including South African artist Paballo Mothapo, also known as Pabi Cooper.
As part of Miami’s Afro Nation programming, Cooper shined bright in a discussion presented by the South African Tourism, an industry-focused panel in collaboration with Maphike Attorneys Inc., highlighting amapiano music—eclectic and infectious tunes born out of South Africa, regarded as a subgenre of house music.
The panel was timely, given amapiano’s rising popularity and influence around the world. According to a report from Rolling Stone, amapiano hashtags on TikTok have garnered more than 570 million views on TikTok, and shares of global streams on the AmaPianoGrooves playlist on Spotify have increased 116 percent globally over the past year.
“As Amapiano makes its way around the world, it’s another way South Africa’s history and culture demonstrates its global influence.” says Jerry Mpufane, president of South African Tourism North America.
Cooper is at the forefront of this growth. With hit singles including “Banyana Ke Bafana” and “Waga Bietjie,” Cooper recently secured a BET Awards Nomination for Viewer’s Choice: Best International Act.
Cooper’s path to music is untraditional. With a background in sports, the 22-year-old set out to become a referee before the pandemic hit. But during lockdown, out of a desire to form connections, she started making viral dance videos on social media and amassed a following of over 2 million on both Instagram and TikTok. From there, she recorded her first hit signal in the studio, and, in her words, “the rest is history.”
Here’s what Cooper had to say about her upbringing, impact, and future of amapiano music.
Tell us about your upbringing. How has it impacted where you are now?
Pabi Cooper: I was raised in Soshanguve; I’ve always been surrounded by family and strong businesswomen who played a huge part in shaping who I am today.
What does Amapiano music mean to you?
PC: As I always say, music heals. And amapiano is part of that healing phase. I love it so much because I get to explore boundaries creatively. The genre allows people from different backgrounds to come together and connect artistically.
How do you think Black culture, in general, contributes to the music industry, and how can we ensure we’re properly acknowledging and celebrating these contributions?
PC: The Black community is extremely diverse, and different groups within the Black community usually have their indigenous sounds. Introducing and placing those sounds together is what helps form beautiful music. It’s a fusion of different sounds coming together to create one unique sound, and recognizing that more will help celebrate that.
What impact do you wish to make?
PC: Throughout my journey as an artist, one thing I represent is always going after what you want. I hope that my story inspires people to do the same. I want people to realize that there’s truly no limit. I want people to feel good whenever they hear and play my music. I want the music to be an experience in itself. When people listen to amapiano, I want them to be happy and reminded of a happy time.
How was the Afro Nation Miami experience for you?
PC: The festival exposed me to different artists and their artistry. It taught me more about the craft beyond our South African borders. It opened me up to connecting to other artists who are not from where I come from. Being in the USA for the first time is a feeling I cannot explain. A young girl like myself traveling the world because of music?! It’s truly humbling and brings me an unexplainable amount of joy.
What are your thoughts on the future of Amapiano and its global influence?
PC: Amapiano is here to stay. There is still so much to explore. The music is a never-ending artistry. Amapiano will continue to bring people together because of their love for dance. The genre will continue to grow, breaking many barriers within the musical industry and introducing us to many more talented people out there!
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.