ALBUM REVIEW: Mdou Moctar, Afrique Victime
Mdou Moctar is a Niger-born guitarist that many are dubbing as the “Hendrix of the Sahara”, and for good reason. Jimi Hendrix was always a very expressive player, using effects pedals and string bending to send his fat riffs into distorted shapes. Check out his performance of The National Anthem at Woodstock ‘69, a singular and unique cultural moment that was made famous because of his playing. Moctar may not be as technically proficient or bold as Hendrix, but give him a few more albums like this and he’ll be there. Moctar’s music is heavily influenced by ‘70s stoner rock and regular rock bands like Black Sabbath, Van Halen and ZZ Top (according to their Bandcamp), but is sung and performed in the traditional Tuareg style, also known as “desert rock”. This is momentum heavy music that uses the Berber language, warped guitar, traditional African stringed instruments like teherdent and special percussion.
This is not your grandad’s Tuareg rock, however. While many traditionalists wouldn’t dare to go this colorful, Moctar takes his art to the next level. By adding drum kits, machine drums and A-level mixing techniques, he is solidifying this music as bold and modern. In the same way that Fela Kuti and his family have shaped Afrobeat over the years, Moctar is proud of this genre and aims to spread its positivity worldwide. Femi Kuti made an effective political record this year, using a more traditional style and I can’t help but compare it to this. I felt, at times, the Kuti record drifted from his father’s jammy political diatribes in favor of more on the nose points. I cannot find a proper translation for the lyrics here, so I have no clue whether these lyrics are clever or not, but to hedge my bets I’ll just say I enjoy Moctar’s delivery.
Sonically, this album takes us on a Jeep ride through the Sahara. All the highs, lows and in-betweens of the journey are present, and each song sets us in what feels like a specific time of day. The reverb heavy guitars that open “Taliat” place us in the sunniest part on the hottest day, with the heat wave guitars and driving drums keeping the journey moving along. “Tala Tannam” is a slow moving cool down after so much intensity, it’s like eating a meal over a fire and watching the sunset. The title track, my favorite here, feels like a standoff at the climax of the trip. It’s almost American Western in its rattling buildup of tambourines and plucked guitars. The '80s drums and soloing gets faster as the song moves forward, to a point where it’s just a flurry of notes and echoed drum hits. While at times I feel as though the songs on here run a little too similar, Moctar’s exceptional playing ability more than makes up for that, giving each song a unique flavor.