Release Date: May 21, 2021
Record label: Matador
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, International, African Traditions
Mdou Moctar's story is already a fabled one. Any existing press on the musician will offer forth his beginnings in the Nigerien village of Tchintabaraden, where his family’s disapproval of electric music led to makeshift guitars with strings made from bicycle wires. Later you'll find his nascent talents were captured on mobile phones and memory cards to be distributed throughout West Africa, before he was discovered by Sahel Sounds label founder Chris Kirkley.
In his native Tamasheq, one of the Tuareg languages, Mahamadou Souleymane (a.k.a. Mdou Moctar) sings the following on "Chismiten": "To become a better person, you need to stop being so jealous and insecure / I have observed these qualities and I'm unimpressed." In English, on the page, it's stark and simple enough; almost a parental scolding. But from the mouth, mind and soul of one of the greatest guitarists and performers working today, with his incredible band blasting into a groove beneath him and echoing his words, it's transcendent and profound.
If it were up to Mdou Moctar, the fiery, psychedelic rock music that has made him one of the most respected guitarists working today would be kept far away from professional recording studios. "With all due respect to all engineers," the Tuareg virtuoso recently confessed to Reverb, "I find it much too square." Late last year, the Nigerien musician gathered his bandmates outside a friend's house in Niamey to test out material from Afrique Victime in a more comfortable environment. In the open air, the quartet quickly attracted an audience: adults dancing, children air-drumming, and others just watching in awe as Moctar's songs ascended and burst in the desert sky like fireworks.
Tuareg songwriter/guitarist Mdou Moctar first wriggled into broader consciousness a decade ago with "Tahoultine," a song on the compilation Music from Saharan Cellphones. It was a standout on the album partly due to its strangeness--a blend of Tuareg guitar, slightly clipped Auto-Tune, and chintzy drum machines that burrowed deep into your consciousness. Personally, I honestly didn't expect to hear more from him.
Over 80% of Niger exists in the vast barren lands of the Sahara, the rest is constantly under threat of periodical drought and desertification. Niger's history has been scarred by bloody colonialism, civil war and military dictatorship. But there is a cultural storm brewing in the heart of the desert, driven by a thirst for change, led by young musicians like Mdou Moctar as well as the likes of Les Filles des Illighadad, the first all female Tuareg guitar band. On Afrique Victime, Mdou Moctar and his band take on the mantle as the sound of youth resistance with a fervent energy.
"Chismiten" begins with the distant shriek of a rooster, the sound of feet pacing on dirt or gravel, all setting the stage for a burst of searing guitar fireworks, courtesy of Niger's greatest current player, Mdou Moctar. And yet, while 2019's superb Ilana: The Creator showcased that fiery, double-tapping proficiency, so much so that Isaac Olson warned "If you still have a punk-induced allergy to flashy guitar solos, be warned; there's not a track on Ilana where Moctar doesn't take every available opportunity to — no other word for it — shred," Afrique Victime is less devoted to solo skills. You'll be all the way to the title track before Moctar bursts out in untrammeled shredder-y again.
Following last year's Ibitlan single, Tuareg songwriter Mdou Moctar and his left-handed Stratocaster return clutching a Matador Record contract and nine mesmerizing odes to his homeland. It's a gorgeous set, at times brimming with nostalgia while at others showcasing the kind of searing guitar riffs which slot nicely into the psych-rock revival of the past decade. Hailing from Agadez, a desert village in rural Niger, the songwriter combined fan worship of Eddie Van Halen and the sounds of the Sahara into an intoxicating blend that has been captivating an increasing number of global ears.