Major League DJz are Bringing Amapiano to a Global Stage
The identical twin brothers and DJ partners Banele and Bandile Mbere speak on the origins of their sound, ‘New Beginnings’ EP and recent set at Tulum’s Day Zero festival.
Low-tempo bass, scattered piano melodies, pounding percussion dotted with synth – there’s a chance, if you’re into house music, that you’ve heard of an emerging subsect called amapiano. Fusing deep Kwaito house with lounge and jazz sounds, the bubbling genre derives its name from “the pianos” in Zulu and less than a decade ago, had yet to exist. In the short time since amapiano first surfaced in South Africa in the mid-2010s, Major League DJz – the musical duo of twin brothers Banele and Bandile Mbere – have established themselves as not only maestros of the multifaceted genre, but a central force in introducing it to a global listenership. In 2020, when house music fans were forced to sequester at home, the DJs launched a platform called Balcony Mix, playing live-streamed sets of new and often unreleased amapiano music from various rooftops in Johannesburg, often accompanied by other rising acts within the genre.
Early last month, the DJs took the stage of Day Zero, a Tulum-set music festival first launched in 2012 by DJ Damian Lazarus to celebrate the end of the Mayan calendar year. The brothers delivered a jazzy, rave-style mix, going back-to-back with a set from another “major” house music authority, Major Lazer, the electronic trio of Diplo and DJs Walshy Fire and Ape Drums.
Coming off of the festival, the Major League DJz are already plotting out new mixes for the upcoming summer. The duo spoke to Hypebeast about amapiano, the making of their latest musical project New Beginnings and their Day Zero festival experience.
You were born in Boston but relocated to South Africa early on in your childhood. Can you describe the influence that growing up in Johannesburg has had on your music?
South Africa is very much like America when it comes to music. There’s a lot of influence from Western countries impacting the music here. We listened to the same music everyone else was listening to. The culture was the same in a lot of ways. Hip-hop and house has always had a major influence in South Africa.
What are some of the artists you were listening to growing up?
Hugh Masekela, Fela Kuti, Bob Marley, Tupac, James Brown, Louie Vega, B.I.G., Shine, 112, Usher… the list goes on.
The name Major League DJz most often comes up in accord with the house music sub-genre of amapiano, but I’m curious to hear about how you would define your own sound.
We would sum up our sound as African Dance Music.
Earlier this month, you teamed back up with Murumba Pitch for the New Beginnings EP. How did that collaboration come about?
We have worked with Murumba Pitch since we started making music. It’s been a few years now, so we wanted to drop a full project with them to showcase on our platform Balcony Mix. They’re the next best thing in music and just need the right push.
What was your vision for the EP starting out? Did you go into the process with an aesthetic or overall vibe for the kind of music you wanted to make?
We wanted to make amapiano music that has a summertime vibe but is still soulful.
In terms of your other recent happenings, you recently took over the infamous rave Day Zero in Tulum. How does the process of putting together a live set differ from that of recording and assembling an EP?
We don’t plan our sets. We go along with the energy of the crowd and aim to take them on a journey. Our sound is still fairly new, so how we bring them on that journey through our sets is very important. Our music is a form of storytelling.
Can you talk about your experience going back-to-back with Major Lazer at Day Zero?
It’s super crazy because we all wanted to test out the [amapiano] sound in the dance space. We love working with Major Lazer. It’s an experience like no other. We can’t wait for the world to hear our upcoming album.
Coming off of the festival high, what’s next in store for Major League DJz?
To keep building African dance music and take over spaces no one ever thought we would. It’s gonna be an amazing summer. There’s a lot lined up for the future.