African house music has been on the rise for the past half-decade — one need only think of acts as diverse as Afefe Iku, DJ Mujava and Culoe De Song. Just as popular has been the rise of established dance acts remixing African artists — cf. Tradi-Mods vs. Rockers: Alternative Takes on Congotronics Vol. 2 and Emmanuel Jal’s “Kuar” remixed by Henrik Schwarz and Olof Dreijer of the Knife. This remix EP of Afrobeat scion Seun Kuti’s second album is an example of the latter, and it’s one of the sharpest such packages in recent memory, with five very different producers transforming the originals without mangling them.
Optimo’s JD Twitch makes “African Soldier” over into an epic glide that’s almost Scandinavian in feel. Jacques Renault turns “Slave Masters” into a mid-tempo strut with an early-’80s feel — the snatches of smeared sax notes he decorates the slow, percussion-led build-up with have that Downtown NYC attitude, while swelling middle recalls Hugh Masakela’s Johannesburg-gone-Gotham “Don’t Go Lose It Baby” (1984) — while another New Yorker, FaltyDL, chops and reassembles the rhythmic chassis of “You Can Run” with ingenuity and zero cuteness.
But the big two are a little closer to Kuti’s home. South Africa’s Spoek Mathambo remixes “The Good Leaf” into something choppier, more febrile and startling — he makes especially good use of the bass line. The real prize, though, is the “Ron Trent Juju Remix” of “For Dem Eye,” which couples the original’s Afrobeat rhythmic feel with a brisk four-to-the-floor kick, and adds a lovely, hazy glow to the horns and organ, like a re-edit of one of Seun’s old man’s records. (Not that Seun’s records are that much different than Fela’s.) It sounds huge in much the way the original does, only on its own terms.