Pioneered by Thakzin and co-signed by Kaytranada, this twist on Afro house combines elements of amapiano, Afro tech and broken beat. Shiba Melissa Mazaza charts the genre’s rise.

It was a sweltering December evening in Johannesburg and I was perched onstage behind a speaker, only arm’s length from the decks. All around me, a crowd jostled in jittery anticipation, waiting for one of the city’s most beloved parties to kickstart into session. Backstage, key figures from South Africa’s electronic music community reflected on the end of another banner year. Deep in the City, the event series founded by local trailblazers Black Coffee and Themba, was created with the vision to expand South Africa’s house legacy and platform the artists that have the potential to build on it further. As the sun set over the stage, Black Coffee ceremoniously handed the baton to Thakzin, who closed the night with a new sound that’s had everyone talking.

3-step is the latest movement to sweep South Africa’s electronic music landscape. Pioneered by Ivory Park-born artist Thakzin, the sound emerged during the stasis of the 2020 lockdowns. Experimenting with amapiano, Afro house, Afrobeats, highlife and more, Thakzin stripped back everything he knew about production and rebuilt his signature sound with a new objective in mind: to create tension and release. Named for its three-kick-drum framework, the sound is often characterised by the jazzy horns of highlife; amapiano’s weightless bass, log drums, ad-libs and shakers; the kick grooves of Afro tech; and, crucially, marching handclaps and light-footed percussion, harking back to the playfulness of London’s broken beat (AKA bruk) era.

“In 3-step, each and every sound matters,” said Thakzin. “It’s mostly driven by the rhythm and the communication of drums. However, musicality plays a huge role because it balances the mood of the song. With tracks like ‘Magnificent Dance’ or ‘Possessed,’ my intention was to create bridges between different sounds and scenes, to create something new and more open. Coming from a country that prides itself on being creative, some of us are endlessly looking for ways to be different. Globally, what Afro house became, has been losing its authenticity and fading away from its roots. We’re just trying another way to approach house music. Another seed has been planted.”

While 3-step’s three-kick rhythm has been bubbling away for a few years, its rising popularity means it’s now dominating sets, establishing careers and even securing co-signs by global superstars. The 12 releases below chart the evolution of the movement—and where it may be heading next.

Thakzin – “The Magnificent Dance”

After releasing “Libalele” with vocalist Nana Atta in September 2022, Thakzin put out two pivotal singles in just seven months, gaining the respect of Sun El Musician, Themba, MÖRDA and Oscar Mbo. “The Magnificent Dance,” released in December 2022, was on rotation at Afro house parties across the globe, followed by “Possessed” in July 2023. Both cuts sparked conversations around this striking new sound, with support from the likes of Jimpster, Osunlade, Atjazz and Keinemusik.

Atmos Blaq – “Kwa Mama”

Known for his musical dexterity, Atmos Blaq became the envy of producers everywhere when a video of Kaytranada playing his feverish track “Kwa Mama” circulated online. In the background, The Weeknd is seen filming the set on his phone. The clip boosted an already careering train and introduced the sound to audiences across the US and EU, earning plays from the likes of Louie Vega, Gilles Peterson and Benji B. Atmos Blaq followed up with “Mfana Wase Dobsi,” an ode to his hometown of Dobsonville, and has a 3-step album with Major League DJz coming this year.

MÖRDA – “Mohigan Sun feat. Oscar Mbo, Murumba Pitch”

After his unfortunate split from Black Motion, Murdah Bongz (now known as MÖRDA) took inspiration from his amapiano circles during paternity leave, and geared up to produce Asante and Asante 2, named after his newborn child. He put out a track with Thakzin called “Amen” on Madorasindahouse, and began adding his signature instrumentation to 3-step rhythms. Releasing tracks with bright horns and meandering vocals from the likes of Murumba Pitch, Focalistic and Suffocate SA, MÖRDA bridged the gap between underground and commercial audiences.

By the time these tracks were circulating, 3-step was catching on around South Africa. Producers from deep house, gqom and amapiano began plotting their next moves, feeling the urge to dabble outside of their respective lanes. As 2023 wore on, 3-step became the sound of the summer.

Darque, Jnr SA, Leandra Vert, Musa Keys – “Areyeng”

On his 2023 album More Life, Darque enlisted rappers Blxckie and Sjava and songwriters Zaba and Mthunzi for an Afro house record brimming with texture and technical bravado. But 11 tracks weren’t enough, so More Life Deluxe arrived months later, this time featuring “Areyeng” in collaboration with GRAMMY-nominated amapiano producer Musa Keys. The track became a staple for DJs unhindered by genre.

SGVO – “Ngiya’khala”

Deep house producer SGVO pushed the envelope with 2023’s VO LP and the subsequent VO Deluxe EP, which was all 3-step. “Ngiya’khala” stands out on the latter, staying true to his meticulously orchestrated style.

Heavy-K – Respect The Drumboss (3-step Edition)

Heavy-K reminded everyone why he’s one of Afro house’s favourite sons with Respect the Drumboss 3-step Edition. Alongside vocalist Samthing Soweto, who returned to electronic music after a few years away, he also tapped Thakzin and Professor for the invigorating “Ulele.” By this point, in December 2023, it was clear that 3-step was bringing Afro house back to pop prominence.

DJ Kent, Thakzin, Brenden Praise, Mo-T, MÖRDA – “Horns In The Sun Remix”

Another legendary figure in South Africa’s dance music history, DJ Kent released “Horns In The Sun” with Mo-T in 2022, following it up a year later with a remix pack featuring fresh vocals from Brenden Praise and remixes and reprises by Chronical Deep and China Charmeleon. But the version that hit new heights came from Thakzin and MÖRDA, whose 3-step remix could be heard across every club, radio station and Afro house set during the festive season and beyond.

Dlala Thukzin – “iPlan”

While “Horns In The Sun Remix” was being declared track of the year, Durban’s Dlala Thukzin released the Permanent Music 3 EP. One of its tracks, “iPlan,” went on to outpace everything that came before, racking up nearly 19 million streams on Spotify alone. Thukzin, who started out making gqom, displayed canny versatility, supported by Sykes and Zaba’s lighthearted vocals.

DBN Gogo, Shazmicsoul, Yumbs – “MALI MALI feat. Baby S.O.N, Mashudu”

Just when most thought the scene couldn’t get any bolder, DBN GOGO ushered in 2024 with Click Bait—the album title is a tongue-in-cheek jab at fans who, expecting to hear her usual amapiano bangers, were surprised by her house, gqom, 3-step and sgija experiments. Featuring collaborations with Atmos Blaq, Sykes, Zaba, Yumbs, Shazmicsoul and Omagoqa, the LP is still lighting up dance floors across South Africa.

Usher – “Ruin (MÖRDA 3 Step Remix)”

During the rollout of Usher’s ninth album, Coming Home, MÖRDA appeared on a remix EP for the track “Ruin” alongside other South African producers. This was one of the first 3-step remixes to feature on a US R&B project, thanks to Major League DJz’ forward-thinking approach to promoting South African dance music.

Major League DJz – “Margaret feat. Victony (Thakzin & Morda Remix)”

Closer to home, in a move not felt since Niniola and Sarz’s “Maradona” broke the internet in 2017, this 3-step remix pairs Nigerian Afro pop vocals with Afro house energy. Tension between Nigeria and South Africa has been high due to the co-opting of amapiano by artists previously known for making Afrobeats, Nigerian street pop and Afro pop. Perhaps 3-step can function as the olive branch.

Charisse C, DJ Kwamzy – “Morning Sun”

The first 3-step project to emerge outside of South Africa was Euphoria, produced by UK-based amapiano enthusiasts Charisse C and DJ Kwamzy, who’ve both spent time in South Africa. Album highlight “Morning Sun” is smooth, authentic and steeped in love for the future of African electronic music, strengthening the connection between the continent’s rich and varied diasporas.