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Sizzling Psychedelic Guitar Sounds From Niger on Mdou Moctar’s New Album

The first sounds on Niger duskcore guitarist Mdou Moctar‘s new album Afrique Victime – streaming at Spotify – are from a barnyard. Then his guitar explodes into the mix, shedding reverb and microtones. Rhythm player Ahmoudou Madassane hits a blast of a chord and they’re off, bassist Mikey Coltun adding a tersely simmering edge over drummer Ahmoudou Madassane’s skittishly hypnotic groove. Moctar fires off a flaring, hammering solo, signaling the band to take the song doublespeed. It’s a good approximation of how Moctar works in concert – and it sets the stage for the rest of the record. As assouf music goes, this is as wild as it gets. Vieux Farka Toure‘s electric work may be more totally unhinged, but this is heftier, with the two guitars going full blast.

Moctar sings in his native vernacular, so for English-speaking audiences, the lure here is the guitar pyrotechnics. Moctar hits a long series of rapidfire hammer-on riffs through a wah as a camelwalking, loping groove and a dense, dreampop-like ambience develops in the album’s second number. Track three, a rustic but energetic acoustic-electric tune, is titled Ya Habibi, so you know that one’s for the ladies.

After that, the band hit a more delicately loping rhythm with hypnotic tinges of Indian music, the two acoustic guitars out front til the end. Moctar wails and does a good Saharan David Gilmour impression in his solo intro to the number after that, with slash-and-burn over tricky syncopation. It turns out to be the album’s catchiest anthem.

Layla is not the FM rock warhorse but a mostly acoustic, catchy, undulating original with a riff that Muddy Waters once made famous – or someone long before Muddy Waters made famous in Moctar’s part of the world. The album’s title track, which Moctar sings in a French patois, is the album’s hardest-rocking, angriest moment and features his wildest shredding. For a guy who’s this fast, he doesn’t waste notes – and that White Light White Heat jam over Coltun’s fuzz bass is the last thing you’d expect.

Moctar winds up the record with a lush, bustling, upbeat acoustic-electric number: just another moonlight mile down the road. Moctar pretty much lives there, lockdown or no lockdown. His next unrestricted American concert appears to be this coming Sept 15 at 8 PM-ish at Ace of Cups, 2619 North High Street in Columbus, Ohio. Cover is $18. Best to check with the venue close to showdate to see if there are any actual restrictions: if so, stay home.

Vieux Farka Toure Releases His Best Studio Album, with a Brooklyn Show Thursday Night

The second-eldest son of Ali Farka Toure – the best-known founding father of Malian desert rock – Vieux Farka Toure is one of the world’s greatest lead guitarists. His signature style blends lightning-fast hammer-ons into a reverb-drenched resonance: he gets an orchestra worth of sound out of his custom-made amp. This global road warrior’s definitive album remains his 2010 live album, but his new one, Samba – out April 7 and due to be streaming at Bandcamp – is the best thing he’s recorded since then. Meaning “second” or “second-born in his native vernacular, it’s a welcome return to the endless volleys of electric flame that he’s made a name for himself with onstage. He’s playing Bric Arts on April 6 at around 9; as a bonus, the only Moroccan gnawa band in the US, Brooklyn’s mesmerizingly danceable Innov Gnawa open the night at 7:30. Advance tix are $15.

Spiraling multitracked guitars (Toure plays all of them here) flavor the loping, aptly titled opening track, Bonheur, Abdoulaye Kone’s ngoni harp adding yet another rustling layer to the thicket of sound. These songs are long, and there’s so much going here that it doesn’t hit you til the very end that it’s a one-chord jam.

Maffa Diabate takes over on ngoni on the next track, Mariam, and then on most of the rest of the album, joining a subtly conversational interchange with the bandleader’s spiky guitar. It’s a fond dedication to Toure’s youngest sister. Then the group hits a scampering groove with Ba Kaitere, anchored with a brisk blues bassline, eventually rising to a long, blazing guitar solo, Toure blasting with his usual blistering, icy tone.

Toure electrifies the ominously modal Malian folk song Samba Si Kairi, an uneasy anthem of strength and resilience:with the album’s most haunting guitar solo, it’s the album’s high point. The pairing of ngoni and guitar are akin to the Byrds taking a detour into the desert with their twelve-string guitars.

The band goes back to a purposeful stomp with Homafu Wawa and its echoey call-and-response, springboarding off a familiar Bob Marley riff. They vamp delicately on a catchy descending guitar hook throughout Maya and then bring back a harder-hitting drive behind Toure’s anthemic blues riffage in Nature. Kone’s ngoni harp returns to blend with the bandleader’s bristling jangle and clang in Reconnaissance, a Malian counterpart to talking blues.

Ouaga comes across as a much higher-voltage take on toweringly anthemic Alpha Blondy-style reggae, the rhythm section – Mamadou Kone on drums and Souleymane Kane on calabash, with Marshall Henry, Eric Herman and Cheikmane Ba sharing bass duties, keeps things close to the ground. The album winds up with a brief jam that sounds like it survived the cutting-room floor. All this is great advertising for Toure’s legendary, uncompromising live show. 

A Free Saturday Night Brooklyn Show by Psychedelic Desert Rock Guitarslinger Bombino

Fiery Tuareg jamband leader and lead guitar wizard Omara “Bombino” Moctar lives on the road. Over the years, he’s also been able to put out a surprisingly diverse series of albums that continue to push the envelope and change the face of Saharan psychedelic guitar music. His latest album, Azel – meaning “roots” in his native Tamasheq and streaming at his music page – is a lot more terse and crystallized than you migiht expect from a master of the recently resurgent art of lead guitar. He and his five-piece band are playing a free show at 7:30 PM this Saturday night, July 23 at 7:30 PM at Prospect Park Bandshell. Femi Kuti – Fela’s kid – leads his Afrobeat band afterward sometime around 9.

Recorded by Dirty Projectors’ David Longstreth over a ten-day period in Woodstock, the album’s production thankfully doesn’t gloss over Bombino’s signature edge and bite. If anything, the sound is enhanced by increased bass  presence along with crystalline percussion balanced in the corners of the mix. Although Bombino has made it clear that this album is heavily influenced by classic roots reggae, that doesn’t come through as clearly as it could. The songs here, many of them familiar from concerts over the past couple of years, are a lot more dynamic than your typical rootsy two-chord jam, typically keeping things closer to the ground than the long improvisational firestorms that Bombino is known for onstage.

The opening track, Akhar Zaman (This Moment) is a typical blend of catchy and hypnotic, although Bombino’s Tamasheq lyrics address the harsh toll cultural imperialism has taken on his native land’s arts and culture. Iwaranagh (We Must) is even catchier, centered around Bombino’s penchant for playing desert riffs within the structure of American rock chord changes and hooks. The third track, the all-acoustic Inar (If You Know tHow Much I Love You) benefits from Longstreth’s beefed-up production.

Tamiditine Tarhanam (I Tell You,My Love) returns to blazing, distortion-fueled desert rock, the bandleader’s rapidfire hammer-on riffage bringing to mind Vieux Farka Toure. Timtar (Memories)  sounds like that same song capoed up the guitar neck, its call-and-response lyrics contemplating a relationship on the rocks.

From its ominous, distantly Sabbath-inflected solo guitar intro to its jagged, similarly dark reggae groove and long, grim sprint to the finish line (or the grave), Iyat Ninhay/Jaguar (A Great Desert I Saw) reflects the imminent danger of getting lost in the Sahara’s endless expanse. The gently exploratory, acoustic Igmayagh Dum (My Lover) makes a striking contrast. The hushed acoustic ambience grows even duskier with the understatedly elegaic Ashuhada (Martyrs of the First Rebellion), the album’s most trad track.

Bombino plugs in again, seamlessly blending his tube-amped, distorted multitracks in the hard-hitting, anthemic Timidiwa (Friendship). The album winds up with the mutedly hypnotic, acoustic Naqqim Dagh Timshar (We Are Left in This Abandoned Place). If Tinariwen are the Grateful Dead of desert rock (musically at least), then Bombino is the style’s Jefferson Airplane – or, as far as cross-pollination is concerned, its Ravi Shankar. Psychedelic music fans in New York would be crazy to miss Saturday night’s show, especially since lately there always seems to be plenty of room in the arena. And, oh yeah, the concert is free.

Noura Mint Seymali Brings a Rare African Sound to New York

Mauritainian singer/bandleader Noura Mint Seymali’s show at Central Park Summerstage Saturday evening started about an hour late: it appeared that an opening act had cancelled. Singing mostly in Arabic in a powerful, shiveringly ornamented alto voice that revealed a strong Egyptian classical music influence, she also displayed nimble chops on the ardine harp, kicking off a handful of songs with brief introductions that went from pensively spiky to lickety-split in seconds flat.

Her husband and lead guitarist, Jeiche Ould Chighaly ran his black-and-white Strat through a flange that added an eerily oscillating, watery tone to his phrases, sometimes letting them linger, sometimes tremolo-picking, building relentlessly intense volleys of notes in the same vein as Vieux Farka Toure. And while there was a definite Malian influence in this band’s music, the rhythms were far more complicated, constantly changing shape. Drummer Matthew Tinari managed to keep a solid four-on-the-floor thump going all the while: dancing West African phrases mingled within a hard-hitting arena-rock drive, bassist Ousmane Touré sticking mostly to simple, looping riffs.

Some of the songs vamped along until a catchy turnaround into the chorus. Another began briskly and then hit a swaying, loping, halfspeed desert rock groove. Others shifted back and forth between a funky pulse and trickier meters. Tinari kicked off one of them with a droll “whoomp whoomp whoomp” thud that might have been a parody of cold, mechanical EDM beats. And Chighaly’s precise, scurrying lines took on a more jagged quality as the show went on, culminating on the next-to-last song with some slashing, offcenter chord-chopping straight out of the Velvet Underground playbook circa White Light, White Heat. See, Africans listen to that stuff too!

Another song, by Seymali’s dad Seymali Ould Mouhamed Vall – a legend in Mauritainia – offered a vivid glimpse of how phrasing originally devised for the kora or the oud can be transposed to the guitar, as Chighaly bent his notes to approximate those instruments’ microtones rather than changing his tuning. It was one of many fascinating glimpses this band offered into a style of music too infrequently heard here. Seymali and band are at Joe’s Pub on July 29, guessing at around 9 (the club hasn’t announced the concert yet).

Apropos of the venue, some of the problems that plagued it recently seem to have disappeared. One of the back bleachers is now open to the public again, there didn’t seem to be as much of the arena fenced off as there had been last year, and there wasn’t an army of officious ushers trying to disperse the crowd from the shadows behind the soundboard where they’d gathered to escape the blazing sun. We can be grateful for small favors.

Vieux Farka Toure Puts Out a New Album of Malian Freedom Songs

Why do tyrants always try to crush the arts? Because music and art are the most effective weapons we have against tyranny. “Pen and paper are the strongest, most powerful things in the world,” Tunisian songwriter and freedom fighter Emel Mathlouthi affirmed last week at her show at the Alliance Francaise; Malian guitar hero Vieux Farka Toure would no doubt agree. Wherever they’ve taken over, the Islamofascists have banned music in his native land; his response is a new album, Mon Pays (My Country). While Toure – the fortyish son of the legendary Ali Farka Toure – is known for his pyrotechnic live shows, his recent studio work has been pensive, subdued and largely acoustic. Concern for his home turf and his people there may be a factor. Toure’s dedication to the cause of peace is nothing new, evidenced by his collaboration last year with Israeli keyboardist/bandleader Idan Raichel, an effort that might well have earned Toure a death sentence in terrorist-controlled regions of Mali.

From an Anglophone point of view, writing about this album without taking into account the lyrics – sung in Toure’s local lingo – only covers half of the picture. But the music on this album stands on its own, as it does throughout Toure’s catalog – and if there’s any artistic community that needs the support of the west, it’s the Malians.

While most people associate Toure with desert blue bands like Tinariwen, his rhythms are more eclectic, and this album is no exception, a mix of swaying, hypnotic songs peppered with upbeat numbers. The jangly, loping opening track is a homage to Malian singer/guitarist Diack So, a contemporary of Toure’s father who drank himself to death. Keening riti fiddle doubles the guitar line, Toure playing the hypnotic, circular tune with a jangly chorus effect over the undulating beat of the calabash. The second track is a slowly swaying, electric call-and-response cover of Safare, written by the elder Toure, building to a fluid but edgy solo showcasing the younger guitarist’s signature hammer-on attack. The pensively catchy third song has resonant guitar that mingles with Sidiki Diabate’s rapidfire, rippling kora over a slinky, insectile scraper groove.

Toure’s voice takes on an especially somber, aching tone on Yer Gando, a warning to watch out for invaders hell-bent on stealing Mali’s treasures, material or otherwise. They pick up the pace with the bubbly, shuffling fifth track, a one-chord jam with some especially tasty high-voltage fills from the guitar. Kele Magni – whose theme is that Mali belongs to the people, not the invaders from the north – follows a catchy, apprehensive descending twin-guitar hook. The eight track is the closest to what westerners typically might call desert blues (a term that its practitioners view with considerable amusement, by the way), while the dirgelike concluding cut is the most rock-oriented. The album also includes two instrumentals that weave a delicate web of acoustic guitar and kora. We can all hope that the Malians stand their ground against the extremists and that there will one day be music everywhere in Mali – legally.

Elikeh’s Between 2 Worlds – Conscious Party Music

Washington, DC Afrobeat band Elikeh are known for their ecstatic live shows. The question is if their forthcoming album Between 2 Worlds can capture that magic and the answer is yes. They like biting minor keys, they write catchy hooks and the production on the album has the same kind of edge that they deliver live: it’s sonically smooth but not slick. Togolese-American frontman/guitarist Massama Dogo’s casually forceful, socially aware vocals alternate between English and his native tongue over Frank Martins’ bubbly lead guitar, Scott Aronson’s propulsive bass and the hypnotic beat of drummer Bagin Assouramou and percussionist Josh Kay, punctuated by horn section of saxophonists Clayton Englar and Megan Nortrup and trumpeters Aaron Pratts and Amumey Komla Augustino.

The caustic, Ethiopian-tinged opening track, No Vision could be directed at any number of presidents or so-called leaders worldwide, depicting them as puppets. Over blippy organ and a catchy bass hook, Know Who You Are is a cautionary tale for the African diaspora, while the album’s most intense track, Alonye features Vieux Farka Toure playing surprisingly eclectic lead guitar, blending his ferocious desert blues style with American funk.

The briskly shuffling Olesafrica, with its wah guitar, slinky bass hooks and edgy horns penetrating the mix, delivers an aggressive political message. They follow that with another revolutionary song, Fly to the Sky, an Afrobeat dancefloor anthem stripped to its bones without the drums, Dogo pensive yet defiant over brooding, spiky guitar and bass. The revolution keeps on coming as they pick up the pace again with the swaying, minor-key Foot Soldiers – if Bill Withers had tried his hand at Afrobeat, it might have sounded like this. Eh Wee (pronounced ay-way) brings back the hypnotic dance vibe, blending Afrobeat with oldschool 70s disco.

The funky Let Them Talk makes fun of people who won’t mind their own business, and features a couple of matter-of-fact, warmly crescendoing tenor sax solos. Nye’n Mind Na Wo has a steady funk beat, Furthur guitarist John Kadlecik’s snaky lines intertwining with Martins alongside punchy horns: it’s a kiss-off anthem of sorts. The album ends with a pensive, troubled, harmony-driven acoustic number, Nyi Dji. They’re doing the album release show on August 24 at the Black Cat in Washington. Elikeh also plays New York frequently (Sullivan Hall and Joe’s Pub are frequent haunts of theirs); watch this space for upcoming dates.

Malian All-Stars Rally for Peace

Here’s JeConte & the Mali All-Stars with desert blues icons Khaira Arby and Vieux Farka Toure plus the great Bassekou Kouyate doing Le Monde pour la Paix (The World for Peace) from their forthcoming album Mali Blues for Peace. This is how it works in the third world. JeConte, about life after the latest coup: “I went by a big hotel to use the high speed internet and got trapped there for several days. I tried to escape numerous times, was threatened at gunpoint and had to escape out the back of the hotel in the middle of the night under very precarious circumstances.” They’ve set up a relief organization, who deserve your support if you’re in a position to offer any.

Dusky Grooves from the Toure-Raichel Collective

Desert blues albums are best enjoyed as a whole. Sure, you can break the individual tracks up and scatter them amongst different playlists, but a good desert blues album sets a mood. The Toure-Raichel Collective’s new album The Tel Aviv Session is a different kind of desert blues album, a collaboration between pyrotechnic Malian guitarist Vieux Farka Toure and Israeli keyboardist/bandleader Idan Raichel. Raichel is an insatiably omnivorous player who seemingly never met a style he didn’t want to master; Toure admits to thinking at first that Raichel was a “crazy hippie,” but on this generally low-key, daylong collaboration in an Israeli recording studio, the two make a good team. Although he plays acoustic guitar here, Toure still has the restless, uneasy edge that makes him such a compelling electric player. Raichel shows off a potent understanding of chromatically-fueled, Arabic-tinged motifs, often playing with a rippling staccato feel that, especially when he mutes the strings inside the piano, evokes the sound of a balafon or a qanun. In one passage, he brushes the strings for shimmery, harplike glissandos. Behind them, bassist Yossi Fine – who has toured with Toure, mentored Raichel in his early years and may ultimately have been responsible for jumpstarting this session – plays endlessly hypnotic loops in tandem with percussionist Souleymane Kane. French jazz harmonica player Frederic Yonnet guests on a rustic 1920s flavored blues jam that evokes Hazmat Modine in a particularly boisterous mood; Yankale Segal, from Raichel’s touring band, adds a third layer of richly glistening textures on Iranian tar lute on another. And the final cut, where the band finally cuts loose with an all-too-brief, soaring crescendo, features haunting, intense kamancheh (Iranian spiked fiddle) by Mark Eliyahu.

The rest of the album alternates between slinky two-chord desert blues vamps, and Middle Eastern piano music, sometimes in the same jam. Toure reveals a fondness for open chords and a biting facility for raga-like passages; Raichel often mimics Toure’s quicksilver hammer-on attack. Most of the songs here are long, slowly and casually coalescing out of themes typically introduced by the guitar. When Raichel supplies the central riff, Toure responds with fluttering, muted chromatics of his own, or simply steers the jam south toward Mali. The album liner notes mention “frequent breaks for coffee;” one suspects that there were other aromas wafting through the studio that day. The most hypnotic track, a lush, warmly major-key cut that brings to mind the Stones’ Moonlight Mile is followed by a brief, rather impatient, upbeat cut driven by Toure. Then they follow that with the single most hypnotic cut, featuring Raichel on Fender Rhodes, adding a vibraphone-like rhythmic bounce against Kane’s boomy calabash. It’s out now on Cumbancha; fans of desert blues, Middle Eastern music and intelligent jam bands ought to check it out. And it goes without saying: this collaboration between a Muslim African and an Israeli Jew underscores the argument that if we took the rabbis and mullahs (and American agitators) out of the picture and left everything to the musicians, there would be no war in the Middle East.

Cross-Pollination from the Toure-Raichel Collective

If you follow cross-cultural musical supergroups, you may have heard of the Toure-Raichel Collective: pyrotechnic Malian guitarist Vieux Farka Toure (son of Ali) in surprisingly laid-back acoustic mode alongside Israeli pianist Idan Raichel plus bassist Yossi Fine and percussionist Souleymane Kane. Grab a free download of their lush, watery, John Fahey-esque new instrumental, Bamba; they’re touring in support of their forthcoming album this spring, with two nights in New York at City Winery on April 13 and 14.

A Posthumous Desert Blues Classic

Malian desert blues guitar powerhouse Lobi Traore died suddenly, under a cloud of mystery in the spring of 2010, a year short of fifty. Tragically, he’s destined for greater popularity now than when he was alive. Recorded in his native Bamako, his posthumous live concert album Bwati Kono was probably never intended for release, but it’s a good thing that the specialty label Kanaga System Krush put it out. A methodical, uncannily terse player, Traore’s signature style falls somewhere between the precisely meandering, subtly dynamic crescendos of Ali Farka Toure and the feral hammer-on assault of Vieux Farka Toure, with a more rhythmic, casually insistent, sometimes staccato attack and a tone that often oscillates woozily through an open wah pedal. Traore didn’t sing much: the vocal numbers here have a quick verse at the beginning and sometimes the end, nothing more. The band here is particularly excellent, including drums, percussion, balafon (west African vibraphone), rhythm guitar and a melodic bass player who gets some solo space and makes the most of it. Almost all the songs here all have surprise, cold endings, a device that works even better than Traore may have conceived: it allows the tracks to end without any crowd noise!

With its roaring, ringing central hook, Bi Donga Fi Ko is the best track here – a Malian take on Voodoo Chile, perhaps. Traore’s solo veers from jaggedly incisive to a menacing, noisy swirl, then steals a page out of the Edge’s EFX book, adding slapback reverb to the wah so that he sounds like two guitars. This is jamband music par excellence; here, Traore manages to be reckless and elegant all at once as he finally backs out of the song and the band follows slowly behind him. Another real scorcher, the ominous 6/8 anthem Ya Time sounds like a desert blues version of a slowly burning Little Milton tune from the late 60s, with the album’s most surrealistically volcanic Hendrix-influenced playing. The steady, shuffling opening track, Makono is also a gem, Traore sailing bluesily downward before resuming his staccato pulse, spaciously placing his accents or hammering on a pedal note over simmering, bubbling bass. Banan Ni, the second cut, is a riff-driven three-chord number set to a thinly disguised reggae riddim – when they break it down to a bass-and-percussion interlude, it’s impossible not to think of Band of Gypsys, especially when the bassist starts playing a call-and-response tune. Likewise, the ten-minute Maya Gasi Ka Bon sets long guitar and balafon solos over a slow, syncopated reggae pulse.

Saya, which has the two guitars but no balafon, works intricately interwoven guitar lines to a casually wailing Traore solo rising high over the low, distorted growl of the bass. A couple more one-chord jams utilize a camelwalk triplet groove; another is a clever round between the two guitarists. There’s also an untitled bonus track which perhaps because it was new to the band, has the loosest feel of any cut here – and by the end, Traore’s guitar is way out of tune. All things considered, this is a classic of desert blues; if you’re into electric guitar and/or stoner music, it’s a great listen.