Music. Mdou Moctar. The Sounds of the Desert.
From the golden sands of the Sahara Desert to the renowned world of music festivals. Songs of love for his land and his people.
One of the most beautiful and intense albums of last year has a title that is already a whole program: Afrique Victime. It bears the signature of Mdou Moctar, aka Mahamadou Souleymane, a Tuareg artist originally from Niger. Born in the mid-1980s, in the Tuareg heart of the African nation in a town called Tchintabaraden.
Mdou now lives in Agadez, a centre of about 100,000 inhabitants sunk in the sands of the Sahara, a place of passage for many nomadic caravans but also for many migrants to Europe.
This is not the first time that Tuareg music has circulated in the rich markets of the West. The new Tuareg music as well as its poetry has centuries of history behind it. The basic instruments are the tindè drums, the flutes, the lutes and the single-stringed violins called imzad. But recently, the dances are led mostly by electric guitars in a cross of sound cultures that brings together the latest generation of musicians to the great masters of the African American blues.
The Tuareg are people who have freedom in their blood, people accustomed to crossing the desert orienting themselves by the stars and feeding on the silence of large spaces. But among the nomads of the desert, there is a culture that we could define as progressive, both on a religious and civil level.
Moctar’s songs perfectly respect this format and Afrique Victime is also a record composed of guitars and field recordings, with poetic meditations on love, religion, women’s rights, inequality and the exploitation of West Africa by colonial powers.
Nine pieces with an atmosphere full of energy and with at times almost hypnotic trends, not far from a certain Jimi Hendrix-style psychedelia, but also full of references to Arab melodies and very Afro-style choirs – songs, above all, imbued with love for this land and its people.
‘Chismiten’, the first track on Afrique Victime, opens with the sounds of crickets and a rooster’s cock-a-doodle-doo before Moctar’s guitar takes over. The track builds and builds and speeds up as he adds new cycles of kaleidoscopic guitar riffs between call-and-response vocals in Tuareg about becoming a better person by letting go of jealousy. The song’s verses and choruses, if that’s even what they are, whip back and forth to their own logic, and Moctar keeps adding layers of guitar.
With this new recording, the guitarist and singer from Niger makes North African and Tuareg musical traditions the characteristic elements of a sound that knows how to be innovative and contemporary without ever losing references to its own tradition. Also spreading a message of hope, resistance, and resilience. All skills matured since his adolescence when the young Mdou built his first electric guitar using the cables of a bicycle. And his music has come a long way since then: after his debut album Anar, recorded in Nigeria in 2008, four more were recorded in a studio and two live. And with them came, little by little, flattering reviews in the Western media, a growing international reputation, and invitations to the most renowned world music festivals, making the tears and dreams of his people travel even further. (Open Photo: Mdou Moctar. CC BY 2.0/Kelav Slavoran)