Curated by London DJs Shannen SP and Joe Cotch, this 17-track compilation takes the pulse of the quickly evolving South African genre built around log-drum grooves, bright synths, and jazz-inflected keys.

In South Africa, dance music has always been intrinsically linked to the country’s enduring inequality, its sounds born of the struggle and hope of township life. From the lo-fi synth pop of bubblegum to the slowed-down house beats and deep basslines of kwaito, the DIY approach of diBacardi and the dark atmospheres of gqom, music has been a way for young Black South Africans to express their frustrations, create new narratives, and form their own identity.

Amapiano is the youngest in this musical genealogy, borrowing elements from its predecessors while very much looking to the future. Along with its signature log-drum sounds (the warm tones produced by traditional hollowed out instruments also known as slit drums), bright synths, and jazz-inflected keys—the “piano” in amapiano—its different styles may be infused with the melodies of kwaito or the thumping beats of techno. Having emerged in the townships of Pretoria and Johannesburg, in Gauteng province, this music captures the duality of life in the hood: It is rooted in the pain of living in a racially and economically divided society while also soundtracking the euphoria of Gauteng’s nightlife, offering revelers a glimmer of brighter days ahead. Over the past year, amapiano has burst onto the mainstream, but like the genres that preceded it, it works outside of the usual channels: Music is shared through WhatsApp, file-sharing apps, or YouTube, bypassing traditional industry gatekeepers. It thrived in taxis and local clubs long before commercial radio stations caught on. This placed the power directly in the hands of the artists and led to a scene so dynamic that it can be hard for the uninitiated to grasp what’s going on.

Amapiano Now, a 17-track collection put together by London DJ Shannen SP and Cotch International founder Joe Cotch in collaboration with NTS, offers a deeper look into this scene. The compilation of unreleased music places the genre’s veterans, like Vigro Deep, Mr JazziQ, Caltonic SA, and Gaba Cannal, alongside rising stars like Kamo Mphela, and Teno Afrika, prioritizing underground sounds over mainstream hits. Since developing as a mostly instrumental style, amapiano has branched into several different varieties. The percussion-heavy sound of “dust” amapiano dominates the compilation, while the sunnier pop vocals and brass-led instrumentals of mainstream amapiano are less prominent, in favor of more avant-garde sounds influenced by Afro-tech and deep house.

Instrumentals driven by hardcore drum patterns and heavy basslines sit next to soulful tracks peppered with lilting keys and sax solos. King Jazz’ “Lockdown” is relatively laid back, with playful piano keys that seem lifted straight out of a Sunday church service; it’s followed by Teno Afrika’s “Power Station”, which blends relentless log drums and breakbeats in an adventurous percussive experiment. Although there are brooding atmospheres and gritty beats throughout, the jazzy chord progressions and layered drums have a propulsive effect, creating anticipation, tension, and release.

Despite the almost complete eradication of clubbing over this past year and a half, artists have never stopped producing formidable tracks in anticipation of the reopening. Amapiano Now is full of them: CaltonicSA’s “Super Star,” with its heavy bass and jagged beats, recalls the producer’s gqom beginnings but leaves ample space for Thabz le Madonga’s stirring vocals; on DBN Gogo’s “Possible,” signature shakers slowly build anticipation, with bright vocals creating a transportive, feel-good atmosphere; the bouncy rhythms and bright synths on lead single “Shona Le” promise a world unburdened by the struggles of the present. At times, the percussive patterns and crescendoing synths take on an almost spiritual dimension. Rather than hedonism, the mood conjures memories of carefree moments, whether dancing in a sweaty club or driving with the windows open as the light turns golden.

Thanks to its innovative young producers, amapiano is always on the move, giving birth to new subgenres and dance trends, and quickly bleeding into other styles and dancefloors all over the world. As artist manager David Ngoma says in the documentary SHAYA!, amapiano is a sound that “comes from the hood and goes out everywhere else.” The compilation doesn’t quite work as a cohesive album, but that might not be the point. Instead, it’s a look at amapiano right now—a snapshot of a dynamic style whose joyful spirit feels more necessary than ever.