January 13, 2015

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Peter Holslin adheres to a strict, mirrored-aviators-only code

When it comes to South African hip-hop, the first thing that comes to mind might be Ninja from Die Antwoord mugging for the camera in ghoulish pitbull prosthetics. Coming in at a very close second, though, is the adventurous music of Spoek Mathambo. The Johannesburg-bred MC/songwriter/producer may not share in his compatriots’ Zef provocations and rave-rap tendencies, but he still drops bangers like “Mshini Wam,” a dancehall jam from 2010 that played on a Zulu-language protest anthem about picking up your machine gun to fight against apartheid.  “Mshini Wam” was a dose of bumblebee bass whose ass-shaking properties defy international trade barriers.

These days, Spoek plays in a hyper-eclectic band called Fantasma, and Passion of the Weiss is proud to premiere a remix of their song “Eye of the Sun,” the title cut off their debut EP from last November. The original rides on the kind of ecstatic Zulu folk groove you’d hear on the comp The Indestructible Beat of Soweto, mixing in wailing psych guitar and pumping hip-hop beats for good measure. The remix, made by Angolan/Portuguese producer Batida, mellows out the BPMs a bit and cranks up the tropical humidity to make a beach tune suited for a trippy alternate dimension.

“It’s a very strange, unlikely remix,” Spoek tells me in an email. “As a rapper I’m always freaked out when producers move my flows around on another beat. Sounds awkward to me…but I think he’s a very creative producer and he really changed the vibe of the track. [That’s] what remixes are for—reinterpreting a piece.”

With Internet connections making it easier to hop around and borrow ideas at will, these are good times to remix and reinterpret. But as Spoek points out, in some ways the music being made now serves the same function it always has.

“As much as a lot of electronic forms might seem new, many are based on ancient rhythms,” Spoek says. “I think the thing linking most cultures is just that primitive need for a collective experience. Something a bit trance inducing, something to bring you out of your daily slog.”

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