Gaba Cannal: The humble genius behind Amapiano

by | Feb 20, 2023 | Creatives On The Rise, Culture, Entertainment, Music, Talent, The Wire

  • Unsung hero
  • Who is Gaba Cannal?
  • Gaba Cannal’s Music
  • Gaba lifts the veil on Amapiano
  • Accolades and the future

Gaba Cannal is a name that should have been part of the Amapiano conversation a long time ago, given the creative weight and credit that he deserves. In the great mythology of South Africa’s biggest, current cultural export – that has produced superstars and ignited dancefloors around the world – Gaba Cannal is today viewed as one of the founding fathers of the genre. His contribution in steering the sound to its current peak (bringing a soulful deep house take on Amapiano’s epic reverberations), is an evolution that we have all come to love. The Wire takes immense pleasure in exploring this behind-the-scenes genius.

Who is Gaba Cannal?

Amapiano’s most favored contributor, Khaka Yena, known commonly by his stage name Gaba Cannal, is a South African music producer and DJ, independent Record Label owner, composer, songwriter, and vocalist. His name “Gaba Cannal” when roughly translated into Portuguese, means “Let It Be” and was inspired by the sound of DJ De Capo’s name.

Gaba Cannals’s early life is steeped in the appreciation of music and a childhood exposed to many genres by his family. He began producing music at the age of 18. Gaba is also a talented pianist and his ear for music would encompass delivering a special texture to compositions as a hip hop producer. Always curious and keen to innovate, Cannal would pivot to the early form of Amapiano, a subgenre of house music that emerged in South Africa, in the mid-2010s. The hybrid of deep house, jazz and lounge music characterized by synths and wide percussive basslines, captured Cannal’s imagination, and in 2014 he released his EP titled, “Abundance”. In that same year he launched his own independent record label, Gaba Cannal Music, signaling his arrival in the industry.

Gaba Cannal Music (LET IT BE MUSIC)

Being in the industry for some time, Gaba’s goal was to showcase and cast new, talented local producers in the soulful deep house scene which extended naturally to Amapiano. In fact, the aural philosophy of the label is instrumental in guiding and shaping the Amapiano scene and would later become recognized as a foundation and conduit to the success of the genre. As such, the label continues to grow with a string of successful new artists.

Gaba lifts the veil on Amapiano.

Through artistic license, Gaba would inject his deep house aesthetic into the rolling basslines of Amapiano, culminating in masterfully blended tunes with a signature tapestry of ambient sounds. He would blur the lines further leaving an indistinguishable difference between Deep House and Amapiano. His opus, “Amapiano Legacy 2020”, featured 15-tracks, cascading between upbeat Amapiano to a downtempo, warm, Deep House-esque Amapiano. It would be his defining moment and a sound replicated by many to this day.


In 2018, he was featured on the single, “Magic”, by Da Kruk, which was nominated in the 2018 South African Music Awards, for Best Underground Record of the Year, a true testimony to his clubland legacy. In 2020, Gaba collaborated with South African singer, Busiswa, on his single “Umhlaba Wonke”, which became a huge fan favourite and Amapiano anthem. Gaba is also a live performance stalwart and has performed on stages alongside local musicians such as Vinny Da Vinci and DJ Ganyani, as well as international acts such as Ralf GUM, Andy Campton and Nick Holder.

The future:

Although the self-confessed, socially awkward, producer extraordinaire, would love nothing more than to be in his studio experimenting and creating hits, he has come to understand that the nature of the business also means being the face of his brand. Which means we will be seeing more of Gaba Cannal going forward but perhaps, more importantly, we’ll be hearing more of his music soon too.

C.S.A.’s monthly cultural portal, The WIRE connects the dots of culture. With concise stories, many with video content, take a premium dive into the world of African entertainment & cultural fluidity. It’s one thing to be hip to what’s happening but it is another to know why.

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