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Mdou Moctar - Afrique Victime (Album Review)

Tuesday, 25 May 2021 Written by Jacob Brookman

Was Muse’s Matt Bellamy the last great rock guitar innovator? How about St. Vincent? Maybe Ed Sheeran’s use of the loop pedal marks him out as the most recent to push the instrument in new directions. What is clear is that pop is in a peculiar place: relentless synthesized textures and Auto-Tuned bedroom production have replaced the virtuoso instrumentalist. Where are the new guitar innovators?

The answer, perhaps, is to be found in Africa. Mdou Moctar’s sixth album ‘Afrique Victime’ is his most focused and exciting to date, and it sees the Nigerien’s psych-rock interpretations of Tuareg guitar music arrive with explosive, spiritual intensity, landing somewhere between the thrilling desert music of Songhoy Blues and the taut indie-pop of Sinkane.

The album starts with Chismiten detonating a spiky blast of nimble shredding, with lyrics that seem to bless and adorn the instrumentals.

“The song is about how people in a relationship lose their sense of self,” Moctar has said of its composition. “It is not about one specific person, but about all people in the world. I turn to Allah for guidance not to be that person.” 

The high quality does not really let up for the next 40 minutes. Along the way, the title track is a standout about the lasting damage of French colonialism. This epic rock hymnal marries a skipping reggaeton beat with call and response—the pace speeds up as the track develops, giving the rhythm an elasticity and intensity that totally wigs out. It takes you somewhere else, and one suspects it is truly thrilling live. It's a terrific high point on an album that will likely make plenty of ‘Best of 2021’ lists come December.

Can a song save a life? Can you buy a pint of milk with music? Is a song—as Bono once asked—as useful as a chair? We lived in these questions long before lockdown took our live musicians away. As long as albums like 'Afrique Victime' are being made, music will fill the gap that no other artform can. It’s the closest thing we have to magic.



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