Album of the Week: Mdou Moctar, 'Afrique Victime'

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Mdou Moctar, 'Afrique Victime'
Mdou Moctar, 'Afrique Victime' (Matador Records)
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Kelsey - Album of the Week: Mdou Moctar, 'Afrique Victime'
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On his sixth album, Afrique Victime, Nigerien psych rocker Mdou Moctar continues to bring the rich musical tradition of desert blues to the world stage. Moctar and his work have experienced multiple evolutions since his music first broke onto the Saharan scene in 2008, but it's clear that each phase of his career builds upon the last.

Despite being raised in a household where his passion for music was discouraged, Moctar was so inspired by the work of Nigerien guitarist Abdallah Oumbadougou as a child that he built his own guitar with strings made out of bicycle cables. He eventually swapped out the makeshift instrument for a Stratocaster and began seamlessly incorporating the styles of fellow Fender devotees like Jimi Hendrix and Eddie Van Halen into his own songs.

The influence of this rock aesthetic is evident on Afrique Victime, although Moctar's sprawling style still defies the conventions of western music. His unique left-handed guitar playing, marked with hammered flourishes by his right hand, continue to make deceptively simple chord progressions sound grandiose. Fiery guitar riffs filtered through layers of pedals are set against field recordings, building a vibrant soundscape from the bird calls of "Chismiten" to the last note of "Bismilahi Atagah."

While Moctar has largely outgrown the simpler folk sounds of his early albums, he stays topical by aiming his lyrical attention towards themes like anti-violence, imperialism, and women's rights. His lyrics are often sung in Tamasheq, and sometimes in French or English. On the album's title track, Moctar makes plain the impetus behind his political messages, singing "Africa is a victim of so many crimes/If we stay silent it will be the end of us."

Moctar's comparatively expansive presence on Afrique Victime - both sonically and lyrically - is due at least in part to his backing band, comprised of rhythm guitarist Ahmoudou Madassane, drummer Souleymane Ibrahim, and bassist Mikey Coltun. It's the second time the group has worked together, following the release of 2019's Ilana: The Creator. Coltun, the only musician in the group not based in Niger, cut his teeth in the D.C. punk scene and pulls double duty as producer on Afrique Victime.

Even the format of Mdou Moctar's latest album pays homage to his debut, which was spread largely by word of mouth and shared via cell phone memory cards. With the help of U.S. label Matador, Moctar is releasing Afrique Victime not only in digital, CD, and vinyl formats, but also as a limited edition cell phone collector's item. The music comes pre-loaded onto a Nokia 6120 handset, although Matador is quick to note that the phone only actually makes calls in countries that have 2G coverage (meaning not the U.S.) and it doesn't come with a sim card.

As a final selling point to make you fall in love with Mdou Moctar's exceptional and multifaceted talent, I'd like to offer up one final ICYMI fun fact (because it is not beneath me to pander to Minnesota's "one of us" culture). In 2015, Moctar starred in Rain The Colour Blue With a Little Red In It, the Tuareg language remake of a film you might better recognize as Purple Rain.

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  • 2 Photos

    • Actor Mdou Moctar in Tuareg 'Purple Rain' remake
      Mdou Moctar is a local star among the Tuareg, based in the city of Agadez. Happily, Prince's iconic purple motorcycle also survived the translation. (Courtesy of Christopher Kirkley)
    • Mdou Moctar
      Mdou Moctar (Matador Records)

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