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Baker's Dozen

Resistance Songs: Mdou Moctar's Favourite Music
David McKenna , May 26th, 2021 08:34

From Van Halen to Ali Farka Touré via Bob Marley, Tinariwen and Oumou Sangaré, Mdou Moctar takes us through the thirteen albums, tracks, artists and styles that made him who he is

Photo: WH Moustapha

Try telling Mdou Moctar that Western colonialism is a thing of the past. We’re discussing his sensational new album, Afrique Victime, over a crackly phone connection; Ramadan is over and Moctar is in Tahoua, Niger, to spend time with his family.

“We’re suffering because we’re colonised by France which hasn’t given us freedom. On paper we have our freedom but in reality, we aren’t free. French colonialism has just taken the model and modernised it, in the same way that if you take a car manufacturer, Toyota for example, the Toyota from 1980 is not the same as in 2020, but it’s still Toyota. And it’s the same thing with colonialisation. We’ve been colonised since the French descended on our territory and we got independence in 1960 on paper but it’s still France in charge. France is exploiting us for our [uranium] mines while 95 per cent of people in Niger don’t have electricity. And yet we have so much uranium! That’s why I gave the album the name Afrique Victime.”

Moctar’s fifth album is also his first for Matador. He came to the attention of Western listeners via the Sahel Sounds compilation Music From Saharan Cellphones – named after the manner in which music is most often shared in western Africa, using Bluetooth technology – and its popularity led to his debut album Anar getting an ‘official’ release in 2014. With its drum machine backing, and saturated AutoTune-d vocals and nimble acoustic guitar bleeding into each other, it still feels like an utterly fresh, unique document. Subsequent releases have seen him emerge as something of a Tuareg guitar god, with Moctar even producing and appearing in a Tuareg remake of Purple Rain, Akounak Tedalat Taha Tazoughai (Rain The Colour Of Blue With A Little Red In It. Unsurprisingly perhaps, Afrique Victime is his most polished release to date but the space opened up (partly through the use of acoustic guitars) is one that allows Moctar maximum room to let rip with some incendiary playing. The album’s title track features a literally furious solo, as Moctar explains, “I made the tracks using pedals that are angry sounding to show my anger about the African situation.”

The problems aren’t limited to colonialism either. “Covid wasn’t something that really troubled us here because we haven’t had many cases. Obviously because it’s a global thing the borders closed so that’s something that affected everybody who travels, and the government started forbidding people to go the mosques on Friday. The thing that really frightened us, that really terrified us, that left us feeling hopeless, wasn’t the virus. It’s the terrorists.” Since the beginning of the year, parts of Niger have suffered a series of brutal attacks from militants most likely aligned with Islamic State.

“It’s a new thing for us, people on motorbikes massacring innocents, children under five years of age, women crying as they grab their children and leave with them, burning houses. They go for the animals, massacre everything and leave the village, leaving nothing behind them. These are the things that really affect us.” It’s an unspeakably grim situation that Moctar inevitably returns to as we go through his selection. But at times he is also incredibly, infectiously excitable as we discuss his favourites, singing a few bars of Bob Marley and giving me an extended vocal demonstration of the different parts of Tuareg takamba music.

The release of Afrique Victime is also cause for cheer. “When I started out I didn’t really take it that seriously if I’m honest, the idea of becoming a really international artist. To begin with it was just because my friends and family liked what I was doing and pushed me to make the first albums. But I didn’t know it was something that was going to make me an international artist. Obviously everyone wants to be successful at what they do! That’s natural. But it really surprised me, it’s gone beyond anything I could have imagined.”

To begin reading Mdou Moctar's Baker's Dozen, click the image of him below