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Arts & Culture

CD of the Month: Mdou Moctar - "Afrique Victime"

MdouMoctar-AfriqueVictime.jpeg

If you consider yourself a fan of modern guitar music, and Mdou Moctar isn’t already on your radar, there’s no better time than now to dive in. The Tuareg shredder’s 2019 album Ilana: The Creator was his first big breakout, and his fourth release on the Oregon-based label Sahel Sounds, an imprint specializing in music from across the Sahara Desert region of Africa. 2020 brought news of his signing to New York indie stalwart Matador Records, and now this year, his latest album Afrique Victime brings his music to more new ears, and even greater heights.

Born Mahamahdou Souleymane in Niger, Africa, Mdou Moctar’s guitar style is a blend of influences, from the traditional music of his homeland, like Takamba and other Tuareg music varieties, to the American guitar pyrotechnics of Jimi Hendrix and Eddie Van Halen. (He even plays lefty like Hendrix did). From his earliest days of building his own guitar using bicycle brake cable for strings, his talent and reach has expanded, growing from a position as a popular wedding performer for his fellow Nigeriens, which he still does today, to touring with his band across the world. His latest album was recorded during breaks in touring behind his previous release, and the energy from the road is palpable throughout.

The album begins with field recordings of what sounds like Moctar’s village home, with insects chirping and animals calling in the distance. The sound of footsteps come in, and we’re instantly sent into his swirling, psychedelic world with the sounds of “Chismiten.” Moctar’s guitar lines and vocal turns are equally winding, the trilling finger work mimicking the emotive singing style prevalent throughout his music. Underneath the guitar wizardry are lyrics about everyday issues like relationships, family, and love; at the end of the day, these are songs for the people, plainspoken and direct. A trio of acoustic numbers written about Moctar’s wife Layla are strung throughout the album. My personal favorite is the lilting “Tala Tannam,” which brings a softer touch into the fold. Moctar’s not doing all this alone, and the contributions of his bandmates, fellow Nigeriens Ahmoudou Madassane and Souleymane Ibrahim on guitar and drums respectively, and American bassist Michael Coltun, are what make this music so special. The band’s rhythm in particular is what fascinates me the most. There is a constant tug of two different pulses overlapping each other in this music, which gives it this driving quality with so much momentum that I believe they could play on and on until the end of time. The Moctar crew save their most fiery performance for the album’s title track, the political salvo “Afrique Victime,” a lament of the struggles and injustices placed upon the African continent, its constant refrain “Africa victim of so many crimes, if we kept silent they decimate us. Why is that? Why is it happening? Tell me why this is so!”. Moctar channels the pain in his cries through his guitar, as he completely unloads in the final few minutes of the song.

The album ends as it began, the sounds of insects a bed of gentle noise as the footsteps from before now walk away. We’ve come full circle now, and you could place the album on a loop and start again as if nothing has stopped, as if there was just a brief pause before jumping right back into the band’s thrilling world, the musical horizon as far and wide as the desert beneath their feet. There’s a magnetism to this music, its trance-like pulses and tremendous performances pulling you in and never letting you go. I had the distinct pleasure of seeing the band perform live back in 2019, and it stands up as one of the most enchanting concert experiences in my memory. The Mdou Moctar train is rolling steadily, and with Afrique Victime, it’s full speed ahead.If you consider yourself a fan of modern guitar music, and Mdou Moctar isn’t already on your radar, there’s no better time than now to dive in. The Tuareg shredder’s 2019 album Ilana: The Creator was his first big breakout, and his fourth release on the Oregon-based label Sahel Sounds, an imprint specializing in music from across the Sahara Desert region of Africa. 2020 brought news of his signing to New York indie stalwart Matador Records, and now this year, his latest album Afrique Victime brings his music to more new ears, and even greater heights.

Born Mahamahdou Souleymane in Niger, Africa, Mdou Moctar’s guitar style is a blend of influences, from the traditional music of his homeland, like Takamba and other Tuareg music varieties, to the American guitar pyrotechnics of Jimi Hendrix and Eddie Van Halen. (He even plays lefty like Hendrix did). From his earliest days of building his own guitar using bicycle brake cable for strings, his talent and reach has expanded, growing from a position as a popular wedding performer for his fellow Nigeriens, which he still does today, to touring with his band across the world. His latest album was recorded during breaks in touring behind his previous release, and the energy from the road is palpable throughout.

The album begins with field recordings of what sounds like Moctar’s village home, with insects chirping and animals calling in the distance. The sound of footsteps come in, and we’re instantly sent into his swirling, psychedelic world with the sounds of “Chismiten.” Moctar’s guitar lines and vocal turns are equally winding, the trilling finger work mimicking the emotive singing style prevalent throughout his music. Underneath the guitar wizardry are lyrics about everyday issues like relationships, family, and love; at the end of the day, these are songs for the people, plainspoken and direct. A trio of acoustic numbers written about Moctar’s wife Layla are strung throughout the album. My personal favorite is the lilting “Tala Tannam,” which brings a softer touch into the fold. Moctar’s not doing all this alone, and the contributions of his bandmates, fellow Nigeriens Ahmoudou Madassane and Souleymane Ibrahim on guitar and drums respectively, and American bassist Michael Coltun, are what make this music so special. The band’s rhythm in particular is what fascinates me the most. There is a constant tug of two different pulses overlapping each other in this music, which gives it this driving quality with so much momentum that I believe they could play on and on until the end of time. The Moctar crew save their most fiery performance for the album’s title track, the political salvo “Afrique Victime,” a lament of the struggles and injustices placed upon the African continent, its constant refrain “Africa victim of so many crimes, if we kept silent they decimate us. Why is that? Why is it happening? Tell me why this is so!”. Moctar channels the pain in his cries through his guitar, as he completely unloads in the final few minutes of the song.

The album ends as it began, the sounds of insects a bed of gentle noise as the footsteps from before now walk away. We’ve come full circle now, and you could place the album on a loop and start again as if nothing has stopped, as if there was just a brief pause before jumping right back into the band’s thrilling world, the musical horizon as far and wide as the desert beneath their feet. There’s a magnetism to this music, its trance-like pulses and tremendous performances pulling you in and never letting you go. I had the distinct pleasure of seeing the band perform live back in 2019, and it stands up as one of the most enchanting concert experiences in my memory. The Mdou Moctar train is rolling steadily, and with Afrique Victime, it’s full speed ahead.

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