Vigro Deep and Amapiano's Bigger Picture

Infusing his sound with techno, house or rave, the 21 year-old producer wants to see the South African genre sit side by side with any dance music. In the middle of his European tour, PAM interviewed Vigro Deep.

It's hard to believe him when Vigro Deep tells us his first techno party was in Paris a few days ago. Convinced that the hard hitting drums, dark tension and sleek vocals of his sound were inspired by the genre, we had naively assumed that the 21-year old DJ and producer had grown up listening to British club music or Chicago house alongside South African classics. The reality is quite different, and the only explanation possible is that Vigro Deep is some kind of prodigy.

Born in Atteridgeville, Pretoria, Kamogelo Phetla actually started music with the goal of being a rapper. In 2018, while watching his dad, a founder of the Godfathers of Deep House collective, compose music on Fruity Loops, he decided to give it a try with the genre making waves in his school: amapiano. Four years later, the apprentice has become a pillar in his country and has earned the respect of global electronic music superstars such as Skrillex or DJ Snake. His sound is not the mellow and loungy amapiano you will play to relax on a Sunday; based on ultra-dark chords, tense and nervous melodies, shocking breaks and powerful sub-bass, you wouldn't be surprised to hear it in a Berlin underground club or at the Dour alternative music festival. His latest album, Far Away From Home (2021), released following the "Baby Boy" project series, aptly named, leading him to a European tour through Amsterdam, London and all the cities known for appreciating dance music. Fresh from a gig organized by the Amapiano France collective, we had a chat with the South African wonder-kid. 

Africa Rise - Vigro Deep

You are in the middle of your European tour. How does it feel being abroad for so long?

You get to multitask, see places and understand the culture of what people listen to, what type they like... It's a very good thing, it makes me lean towards my musical side. And I discover new music all the time. I'm hearing crazy sounds, I don't even listen to amapiano anymore. I'm always in hip-hop, afrotech, afrobeats... I Shazam or record things on my phone and when I get back home I mix all these things in one song. When we got here in Paris we went to a party where they were playing some early techno. It's a thing I had never done and I was like "let me go listen to the music". I found some samples and discovered that the bass we use in amapiano has been there since the 80s.

You grew up in Atteridgeville, which holds a particular spot in the South African music landscape. What was your musical upbringing like? 

Actually I never thought of being the person that I am now with amapiano. At that time I was more into hip hop, I was even rapping. What influenced me to this amapiano genre was that at school the sound was banging. They were making a lot of mixtapes back then, one hour projects. You would hear tracks by mixtapes and not by singles, I even discovered Kabza De Small from mixtapes. One day I was at school and they sent me a folder of 17 songs of amapiano, and it took me one day to switch to the genre. Also, regarding gigs, with hip-hop you have to push it, but with amapiano it was going so easy I decided to DJ. In December 2018 I switched to amapiano and I had my first gig the same month. Moved up, pushed and yeah!

Was your dad influential in your choice of pursuing music as a career?

I feel like he probably was afraid to put me into music. He kept on saying I had to go to school. But I was learning Fruity Loops watching him. Whenever he was gone I would go in the room and do my things until he got me a laptop. He didn't show me that much music, but he was surprised because he never thought I would be this good. One day we were running a campaign for a politician, so they had to assemble voices and they needed amapiano. I did a quick amapiano track and gave it to him. He was blown away. The next morning he called his friend, and we decided to all push it. 

In the amapiano landscape, your style, particularly dark and hard-hitting, is unique and easily recognizable. How did you develop it? 

Growing up I was more exposed to pop music, so I had to go back to the music of my dad and his crew. They do deep house, nostalgic music and I had to listen to where the songs stopped, where they go up and down... I learned from that and I made it my own. I was also following a lot of Black Coffee. And with Black Coffee, you have to listen to his mixes. It's cool to have a song, but then from the music side, when you play a mix, that's when I get the whole idea of who you are. Finally, my dad feels like amapiano keeps on repeating itself. So he only taught me one thing: "whatever type of music you do, make sure that when I'm listening I feel wavy, make sure you have a strong bass and that you're always on top". 

At what stage did you realize things were changing for you?

My first song called "Black Power". It was a song that I did without monitors to produce, even my laptop didn't have an aux cable thing so the only way I could hear the music was through the speakers of the laptop and the TV. And that's a difficult thing, especially when you are trying to mix it or master it! Then, after two or three weeks the song was on the streets, and people wanted to know my name. My plan was initially to go to music school. But music is my calling. It's a thing where you can't decide, it decides for you. I had other plans while in school, but it pulled me away and I found out later that music takes me away more than any of my other future plans. 

Black Power - Virgo Deep

You then signed a deal with Kalawa Jazzmee, an iconic label in South African dance music. How did that feel?

It was crazy (laughs). Just getting a call from Oskido was mad. He told me I was hot and I had to come have a look at the studios, probably have lunch and speak more about how to build my brand. Kwaito had a very slow tempo, and when amapiano started it was quick. We were playing around 180/190 bpm. Yet, the sounds, the lifestyle, the lingos are the same we use in amapiano now. It's just a bit of difference here and there.

What did a track like "Ke Star" with Focalistic change for you? 

It changed a lot of things. When we did the song we were just joking around. It was lockdown and me and Foca couldn't go to gigs and decided to give people music. We made two songs: "Ke Star" and "Blue Mondays". He was like "no, I feel 'Ke Sta'r". We put it first and boom, it took me to these kinda places. The Davido remix had a big impact. When I started, I came with two genres: the one I'm working on right now and the one I started with. People from Nigeria and the whole of Africa liked my old sound and they still like it. But they just knew the beats, not the name. The Davido remix had the impact of putting my name on their lips.

Your latest project is named "Far away from home". What can you tell us about it?

70% of the album was done in London. The idea was to create something new, to target the European market which I feel like I need, because I wanna feed each and every ear. There are different scenes in amapiano, some people really like the bass, some people like it to go long, other people prefer spiritual things. I want to please everyone. For the European, I put more chords and more vocals. And when I'm on stage is where I get the most happiness. When I perform, I control you. You're making someone like you, follow you more and making them understand the music.

Some Attitude - Vigro Deep

You clearly try to make your sound different from the rest. Where do you want to take amapiano?

Right now, we are running radio stations, TikTok and whatsoever but I'm actually looking at the bigger market, trying to take it to Ibiza or to festivals where we have our own genre. Right now they just call it dance music, it doesn't have a genre on social platforms, but I want it to have its own name. That's the kind of place I wanna take the sound. And actually, this thing is not about amapiano, it's mostly about being musical. I feel like there are a lot of kids in our hometown who have music but they don't know how to put it out because amapiano is pressuring people. But it should be about just bringing out whatever you can. Music is the language.

What kind of music are you working on right now?

Right now I'm working on a project where I'm mixing everything. I was scared about that until I met Skrillex in London. Skrillex was in the studio doing a song, and he was like "yo, I see you're pushing on amapiano and I'm a big fan". I explained to him where I wanted to go, he understood and told me I had to change this and that. He told me that he knew what I wanted, and that I should just be me. If you wanna mix it with dubstep, do you, be you. He felt like that's how he started. When he changed his sound, people were complaining until they understood his vision.

Nils Bourdin October 11, 2022