Swazi-born, South African DJ Uncle Waffles is at the forefront of propelling amapiano — a subgenre of house and South African music — to dancefloors across the world.
Her third EP, “Solace,” released today (Aug. 11), sees her expanding on the invigorating beats that earned her a spot at this year’s Coachella festival, and delving into multiple other genres. As the EP drops, anticipation builds for her North American tour, set to start Sept. 1 in Edmonton, Canada, before moving into the U.S.
The DJ born Lungelihle Zwane has emerged as a major figurehead for amapiano, a genre that boasts Afrobeats’ energy while infusing it with the allure of house and EDM-tinted bass drops, infectious synths, and call-outs. The new EP follows her debut, “Red Room” (2022), and its subsequent installment, “Asylum” (2023).
Uncle Waffles spoke with Variety ahead of the release of her EP to discuss her unusual stage name, her intention behind her choreographic stage presence, and creating room for other amapiano acts to be successful.
First things first: Your DJ name is Uncle Waffles but you’re obviously female. How did that name come about, and why did you stick with it?
My friends used to call me Waffles in high school because of the [Cartoon Network show] “Teen Titans,” where they would sing a song called “Waffles, Waffles, Waffles”. My friends decided to start calling me Waffles. Then when I joined Instagram after high school, they were like, “You know, this uncle [trend] is really cool right now.” So it just went from an Instagram handle that I used to use to my DJ name now.
Who were some of the inspirations that you heard growing up?
I was a big fan of [South African singer and choreographer] Chomee and [South African house singer] Lebo Mathosa. Then I was really inspired by Bonang Matheba who is a major media personality [in South Africa]. I loved that they were unapologetically themselves. They were extremely feminine. You know, like I really loved that they were such girls, and they were really dominating their industry. I was so fascinated by how people can be such great performers. So I was like, “These are the people that I want to be like.”
You got your start as an intern at a broadcasting station. How did you transition from being an intern, then segueing into becoming a media personality and then a DJ artist?
When I was interning, they used to have decks on site because it was a show where we would have DJ’s on, and we would have performers that needed a DJ to help. One day there was a DJ who said, “If you want to learn, I have some time. So on days where you can, we can just come and practice.” It went from eight hours a day, every day, for like almost nine months to one day, I was like, OK, I really love this. I don’t know if I can put myself out there like this, but let’s try.
So I made my own little bookings poster. I put it out there and I got a lot of people reaching out, but it was of course for non-paying gigs. Then I went from small little venues to deciding that I actually want to do this unapologetically. So I just decided that even if no one’s watching, I’m just gonna dance and do my thing because the dancing really started when no one was paying attention to it.
Your dance moves have caught the attention of Drake who shared the viral video of you performing videos with his millions of Instagram followers. When did it click that this was something that set you apart from your peers?
I never thought it would be something that would set me apart. But once everything happened, I realized that because a lot of people don’t understand the actual words of the music and are receiving the music for the first time, maybe the best way to reach them is through dance.
Through the dancing they kind of get the music, you know? If you look at all the most popular amapiano songs right now, they all have some sort of dance attached to them.
To that point, a lot of people – globally, have experienced amapiano music for the first time through you. Does that come with any sense of responsibility?
It comes with a lot of responsibility because you have to make sure that you leave an impact to still open more doors for a lot of upcoming artists. There are a lot of amapiano artists that are just now being discovered.
Your May 2023 EP, “Asylum?” is a high-energy set, but the new one, “Solace,” is much more serene. What is the inspiration behind releasing music so frequently and what made you decide to show these two different sides of yourself?
We decided to release [a lot of] music this year because I was learning what exactly I wanted my sound to be and I was trying to understand how to cater to all audiences through the sound. “Asylum” is a representation of what we’re talking about now. There’s so much chaos when you blow up… and there’s so much learning left to do. There are so many moments where you’re feeling like you’re drowning. So “Asylum” was supposed to represent the chaos of my journey.
Then “Solace” is supposed to signify how within all of this, I still recognize the grace and that there was so much beauty within this journey. There’s so much beauty, and so “Solace” is supposed to capture the parts of the project that represents how happy I am that I was chosen for this, that you know that this happened to me.
It’s been almost two years since my video went viral, so I really wanted something that’s going to commemorate my journey so far – from the bad to the good. So, the full project is actually called an “Asylum of Solace”, which basically means that in my world of chaos, I still found so much peace.