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How K.O used Afrobeats to deliver the Biggest South African Song of 2022 [Pulse Interview]

After a moment away from the top of the game, K.O returned to deliver the biggest song in South Africa in 2022 with ‘SETE’ which is a blend of Afrobeats and South African pop in a soundscape dominated by Amapiano.

For ‘SR3’, K.O delivered the familiar artistry that endeared listeners to him while also experimenting with a new sound and connecting with a generation of Hip Hop heavy hitters. The superstar tells me that for him, the intention was to operate at the level he belongs to while also making a project that connects to a cross-generation of listeners beyond South Africa.

“I wanted to stretch my reach by collaborating with people outside of Hip Hop and outside the SA market that’s why I choose to collaborate with someone like Sarkodie. I also know where I need to be that’s why I choose to be more intentional about working with people I believe her my peers.”

After his absence from the top of a heavily competitive music industry, K.O took the bold step of experimenting on his new album as he combined the now dominant Amapiano sound with his Hip Hop and unexpected exploration of Afrobeats. It’s this experiment that delivers the smash hit ‘SETE’ which was the biggest song in South Africa in 2022.

K.O tells me that ‘SETE’ is a slang word in South Africa that loosely means everything about having a good time. In Nigerian Pidgin, ‘SETE’ would mean something like “Chop Life”. The song carries significant Afrobeats markers in form of the beat, style, and melody. The song is a rare moment that sees a South African habit adopting Afrobeats cadences while delivering the song in the local language. K.O tells me the song came about from a studio session he shared with a Nigerian artist who curiously wasn’t taken by the beat.

“There was this Nigerian artist in the country and the label tell me to pull up for some studio session with him. So I didn’t have a song I thought would fit the collaboration so I hit up a couple of producers I know and then I linked with Callimajic Beatz who was a Nigerian.”

K.O explained that the Nigerian artist didn’t like the beat and he decided to work on it while recruiting the assistance of fast-rising stars Young Stunna and Blxckie.

“I felt there was something special about the beat so I decided to work on it and make it a South African affair. I think the result was even more special because it was SA artists vibing on Afrobeats. It won’t have been as special if it was a Nigerian artist vibing on the sound.”

‘SETE’ was a rare exploration of Afrobeats by a South African artist and it came at a time when Nigerian musicians are reaching new heights through the exploitation of South Africa’s Amapiano. I asked K.O about the local reception of Nigeria’s adoption of Amapiano given that the West African superstars were taking the sound to the world. He tells me it’s a huge win for everyone involved because Africa is one.

“SA is the home of Amapiano and the genre has had an insane run. It just shows that if African artists can stay original and authentic, there is a lot of magic that can come out of it. Amapiano is an African sound and to see the genre influencing the world through the Afrobeats movement goes on to show that the future is Africa.”

In the spirit of pan-Africanism, K.O explored Afrobeats and scored the smash hit in ‘SETE’ and now, he has decided to take the song to more listeners across the continent. K.O tapped Nigeria’s Oxlade who recently enjoyed a global moment with his hit single ‘Ku Lo Sa’ and Tanzanian superstar Diamond Platinum for a remix that touches different parts of the continent. I asked K.O what informed the choice of the artists and he tells me it was both creative and strategic.

“We saw what the song was doing over here and beyond and we thought it would be great to get cosign from Western and Eastern Africa. Oxlade was in South Africa in December and he saw the song’s impact down here so he was happy to be on the remix. We reached out to Diamond and he liked the song as well and that was how the remix happened.”

K.O tells me that it was a pleasure to work with an Afrobeats star who just enjoyed a massive global moment and who has a bright future ahead, as well as, one of the continent’s biggest stars whose music has taken Eastern African music to a whole new level.

Following the warm acceptance of ‘SR3’ I asked K.O if he has plans to put out a deluxe version and he tells me that plan was in consideration but with the success of ‘SETE’ and the refreshing sound it offers, he intends to explore that direction.

“I haven’t stopped recording for like 2 years now and we had plans to put out a deluxe. And with the success story of ‘SETE’, I think it makes sense for me to explore more of that sound so I’m already working on the next project which I might drop later this year.”

K.O tells me he looking to explore more of Afrobeats while spicing it up with his South African elements. He also mentioned that he’s working with a couple of Nigerian stars on some exciting collaborations. This afforded me the opportunity to ask him why his collaboration was taken down from ‘SR3’ and he tells me that it was a slight issue of creative differences.

“So the thing is there are two versions of the song and the one I want for the album wasn’t the one he wanted. So out of respect, I decided not to add it to the project and hopefully, we get to work on something new in the future.”

Afrobeats stars have constantly interacted with their southern counterpart while remaining the biggest musical export on the continent. There have always been slight markers of South African musicians not being totally okay with Nigeria’s domination and I asked K.O if he thinks some of his Southern African colleagues have chips on their shoulders due to the global rise of Afrobeats. I wanted to know if it was a sibling rivalry or if it was bigger than that. K.O’s reply carries pan-African subtext and he tells me the continent is one irrespective of whatever anyone might feel.

“As for me, I see Africa as one, and African creatives are free to explore any sound across the continent. If we are free to take from Hip Hop and Pop then why can’t someone from Ghana or Nigeria do Amapiano? Afrobeats is one of the biggest sounds in the world right now and I think them doing Amapiano is shining light on the genre.”

The South African music scene has lost 3 stars in the past 1 year with the recent being the deaths of superstar rapper AKA and fast-rising hitmaker Costa Titch. I asked him how has the passing of these stars impacted the South African music industry and KO tells me that it has been hard on everyone, and for him, especially who just finished recording the first track of a joint project with AKA days before he was killed.

“I still can’t make sense of the whole thing. Three days before his death, AKA and I just finished working on the first song for our joint project. He was someone I had a close relationship with and I can’t bring myself to even listen to the track.”

KO tells me that contrary to what people might be seeing online, the country wasn’t under the siege of gang violence and the deaths of Ricky Rick, Supamega, and Costa Titch were 3 unrelated excruciatingly painful events that happened way too close.

“I just want to say thank you to our brothers from all over the continent who have sent their love and condolences in these trying times.”

I asked K.O if he thinks the South African music industry will come together to deliver a tribute for the deceased stars and he tells me that while he couldn’t speak to that he believed AKA‘s posthumous album ‘Mass Country’ was already a great tribute.

“His album is out and it’s doing what he would have wanted it to do. I think the album is already a tribute to him and if others want they can pay their respect.”

KO hopes to muster the strength to revisit his last recording with AKA and put it out as a mark of respect to his fallen friend.

“Right now, I just can’t understand any of it but I hope to one day put out the song.”

After over a decade in the upper echelons of the South African Hip Hop scene, KO has made his comeback with an expected exploration of Afrobeats and he intends to do more with this sound.

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