Over the last couple of years, South African DJ-producer Uncle Waffles (born Lungelihle Zwane) has rapidly risen to her rightful title as the “princess of amapiano.” From mastering the South African club circuit to embarking on mini international tours, she’ll soon perform on one of the biggest music stages: at Coachella.
“I tend to use my dance moves to translate the music, so you’re going to see what the song says even if you don’t understand it,” says the 22-year-old artist.
Last Spring, Zwane released her first single, “Tanzania,” featuring Tony Durado, Sino Msolo and BoiBizza, which she took three months to perfect and was included on her 2022 debut EP Red Dragon. To commemorate the project’s first anniversary, Zwane dropped its follow-up, Asylum, today (March 31).
Zwane spoke with Billboard about how she started DJing during the pandemic, why one particular 30-minute set changed the trajectory of her career and what her dreams for amapiano music are.
While interning at a local Eswatini TV station in 2020, Lungelihle Zwane stumbled upon 15-year-old DJ decks, which a DJ who often visited the office then taught her to use. Having grown up on South African house and kwaito acts like Black Coffee, Lebo Mathosa and DJ Kent, Zwane studied the rising amapiano movement — a South African subgenre of house and piano-led jazz — that was hitting clubs right before lockdown. Using it as inspiration, she practiced DJ’ing eight hours a day during the pandemic. “This makes me feel the way I’ve always thought my purpose would make me feel,” she says. “It made me feel whole.” Zwane’s high school friends picked out the stage name Uncle Waffles because, as she reasoned, “nobody’s going to expect it.”
Creative agency Kreative Kornerr helped Zwane break into South Africa’s heavily saturated music industry by booking her regular gigs, one of which she says “changed my life.” In October 2021, a DJ bailed on the prime 10:30 p.m. slot at Zone 6 Venue, and she filled in. “I’ve never played for that many people,” Zwane recalls. The performance reached an even larger audience when a 30-second Instagram video of Zwane whining her hips to Young Stunna’s “Adiwele” went viral. “[The song] says, ‘Coming at them with force,’ which is what happened to my life after that.” Zwane headlined her first African and U.K. tours in 2021 and 2022, respectively; received a Drake co-sign; and independently released her fiery debut single, “Tanzania,” in March 2022, ahead of her EP Red Dragon. “I’m in this position, and it’s not by mistake,” she says.
Following a six-date U.S. tour last fall, Zwane has been preparing for a splashier stateside appearance: Coachella, where she will become the first amapiano act to perform at the festival. She will follow it up with performances at Afro Nation in Miami in May and Roots Picnic in Philadelphia in June. “It feels so surreal as someone who just started this whole journey,” she says of her next few months. And yet, she hints at bigger goals — she hopes to curate, book and sell out more shows featuring women and amapiano acts this year. “The sound deserves to be on stages this big.”
A version of this story will appear in the April 1, 2023 issue of Billboard.