Mdou Moctar – Afrique Victime (2021)
FLAC (tracks) 24 bit/96 kHz | Time – 41:18 minutes | 922 MB | Genre: Rock
Studio Masters, Official Digital Download | Front Cover | © Matador
With Afrique Victime the prodigious Tuareg guitarist and songwriter rips a new hole in the sky – boldly reforging contemporary Saharan music and “rock music” by melding guitar pyrotechnics, full-blast noise, and field recordings with poetic meditations on love, religion, women’s rights, inequality, and Western Africa’s exploitation at the hands of colonial powers. The music listeners are the beneficiaries of the staggeringly powerful do-it-yourself musical ethic of Mdou Moctar – the man and the band – who’ve worked so hard to bring the spirits of families and communities in Niger to the West. Afrique Victime sounds and feels like a Tuareg hand reaching down from the sky, and we are very lucky for this chance to get lifted.
Rooted in the same issues that once inspired the American blues it’s modeled on—poverty, corruption, conflict—West Africa’s desert blues boom still has much to say, eloquently weighing in on both public disputes and personal struggles caused by assouf, which in the Tamashek language means loss, longing, homesickness, or “the pain that is not physical.” By adding grooves and most importantly, the electric guitar, this maturing genre—percolating since the 1980s—from bands like Tinariwen, Imarhan, and Bombino, has made West Africa a source of fresh inspiration for electric blues rock and psychedelia (two forms of Western music in dire need of new energies). Mdou Moctar, (aka Mahamadou Souleymane)—deemed the “Hendrix of the Sahara,”—has become the latest performer to make the leap to Europe and the US. After a live album for Jack White’s Third Man records in 2019, this studio album is a crucial step up in his rapidly rising career.
A remarkable collage of sound considering there are only four musicians, Afrique Victime has both ballads and upbeat numbers, all of it rhythmically vital and improvised around a core groove. The left-handed guitarist is supported throughout by his band of rhythm guitarist Ahmoudou Madassane (a star in his own right who has collaborated with Moctar since 2018), drummer Souleymane Ibrahim and American bassist/road manager Mikey Coltun who also produced this album which Matador is modestly calling, “Van Halen meets Black Flag meets Black Uhuru.” Recorded while the band was on the road in Amsterdam and the US, the overall sound is reasonably clear and well-balanced and was mixed to give the band equal prominence to Moctar’s guitar and singing. Nowhere near the equal of his guitarwork, his vocals in Tamashek are often doubled and tripled to make them sound like a chorus.
After setting the scene with the buzz of insects, a crowing rooster, and footsteps in gravel, opener “Chismiten” has Moctar singing, “To become a better person, you need to stop being so jealous and insecure,” before ripping into a razor-edged electric guitar solo that’s swirled with reverb and a slightly distorted tone. Muscular and original, this stirring statement leaves no doubt that this self-professed Eddie Van Halen fan has the requisite ideas and confidence to be a guitar hero.
Despite the album’s title and the political bent of much of the music from this region, the songs on Afrique Victime are for the most part love songs. In the enchanting chords of the album’s most fully realized tune “Tala Tannam” he sings, “I adore your eyes and body shape.” In the acoustic guitar and hand claps-led “Ya Habibti” his “heart beats fast when I think of you.” And while the humor may be unintentional—the product of a less than elegant Tamashek-to-English translation—the closer “Bismilahi Atagah,” finds our hero weary from the battle of the sexes, declaring, “Love has become a painful boil in my life/ More painful than the sword of my enemy.” A star on the rise, a guitar hero gently weeping. © Robert Baird
1. Mdou Moctar – Chismiten
2. Mdou Moctar – Taliat
3. Mdou Moctar – Ya Habibti
4. Mdou Moctar – Tala Tannam
5. Mdou Moctar – Untitled
6. Mdou Moctar – Asdikte Akal
7. Mdou Moctar – Layla
8. Mdou Moctar – Afrique Victime
9. Mdou Moctar – Bismilahi Atagah