Mdou Moctar Afrique Victime Matador Records
Mdou Moctar’s ascent is as unique as his enthralling take on what he calls “desert blues”. Raised in northern Niger, his strict religious upbringing forced him to practice music in secret with a makeshift lefty guitar: a wooden board strung with bicycle brake cables. The Tuareg guitarist then went from having his songs shared across the Sahel via SIM cards to channelling Prince in an adaptation of Purple Rain, filmed entirely in his native Tamasheq (a variant of the Berber language spoken by nomadic tribes in parts of North Africa). This all culminated in a breakthrough in 2019, when his frenetic debut Ilara (The Creator) earned plaudits for mixing scorching riffs with poignant social commentary.
Its follow-up, Afrique Victime, revisits those themes while also showcasing the innovative strummer at his searing best. The album opens with the fiery Chismiten, welcoming Moctar’s trademark Stratocaster shreds reminiscent of Eddie Van Halen in his pomp. Backed by his band, composed of rhythm guitarist Ahmoudou Madassane, drummer Souleymane Ibrahim and American bassist Mikey Coltun, Moctar pushes the boundaries of ‘tishoumaren’ (Tamasheq for North Africa’s blend of blues and rock) into overdrive further than Ilara ever did. The celebratory Ya Habibti is laden with stuttering percussion and grainy acoustics steer the melodic Tala Tannam, while Asdikte Akal is electric psych rock that would pass for a Saharan homage to Jimi Hendrix’s legendary licks.
But the towering seven-minute title track is the album’s centrepiece. Moctar starts with sombre twanging and a mournful reminder of the colonial oppression that Africa still endures (“Africa is a victim of so many crimes/ If we stay silent, it will be the end of us”), before the tempo picks up with an intense guitar solo that doubles as a battle cry against Western exploitation. Remaining as focused as ever on the issues blighting his homeland, Afrique Victime elevates and reshapes one of the continent’s most exciting genres.