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.