Mdou Moctar on “Afrique Victime” | Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Saturday, May 25th, 2024  

Mdou Moctar on “Afrique Victime”

Sharing a Message With the World

May 19, 2021 Web Exclusive Photography by WH Moustapha Bookmark and Share

Mdou Moctar is a Nigerien guitar virtuoso, but he’ll be the last to admit his virtuosity. He’s far more humble than that.

“I’m constantly learning,” Moctar says, from his home in Agadez, Niger. “I’ve never been someone who considers myself to have become an accomplished player, or a star of any kind.”

On his highly anticipated sixth full-length album, Afrique Victime, the guitarist masterfully weaves together a message for the world—a message of love and community, a message of hope, and a message that criticizes colonial crimes and France’s lasting influence on the Tuareg region.

The nine tracks that comprise Afrique Victime are incredibly powerful, and you don’t need to understand the lyrics to realize that power. Moctar’s playing is hypnotic, his lyrics (sung in native Tamasheq) mesmerizing. He tells stories of suffering and shares his love for the people of the Tuareg region, and the world beyond it.

“When I see people suffering around me, in particular suffering women, it makes me need to write about it,” Moctar explains. “When I see the hardships of living in the desert, for instance, access to water, that can be a source of inspiration. For this album I wanted to talk about the situation of Africa: the difficulties of life in Africa and the crimes that are related to the colonialism of France. So I needed to share that in the album.”

Moctar’s music has always been crucial to his life, and that need to share his music with the world has been with him his whole career. Whenever he returns from tour, he travels around the Tuareg region and gives back to the community. For Moctar, he wants those around him to have access to things he didn’t have when growing up. Musical instruments, for instance, are a big part of his world—so he gives instruments to kids in his community that have an interest in music. He also provides water and medical supplies to those around him. “That’s just a natural way of doing things around here,” Moctar adds. “That’s just who I am.”

To Moctar, music is a gift from God. A practicing Muslim, he and I are speaking in the evening (West African time) so that he can conduct an interview during Ramadan. Moctar speaks French and some English, so we’re talking through a translator, Penny, who is based in Paris. Moctar explains: “I feel that through music I can really transmit the messages that I want to. It’s the way that I can explain the way I feel, deep inside me, to the whole world. And it’s my weapon as well, so it both helps me feel better and take action when things become very difficult. Through music I can explain my tears and I think it’s something that can change the world and help people understand what’s going on here in Africa.”

With its important themes and message, mixed with the traditional Tuareg staples of love and community, Afrique Victime is perhaps Moctar’s most urgent record to date. Moreover, it’s also his first album released on Matador Records, which will allow him to reach more listeners and expand his tours.

“This year was very difficult,” Moctar says.” We’d finished the album and creatively it was great, but COVID hit and it became impossible to make a living from music. Touring wasn’t possible and concerts became complicated. [Music] is our way of life, it’s our craft, so everything came to a halt. Without Matador, we would be deeply in the shit. So I’m delighted and I’m not sure what would have happened without that opportunity.”

Moreover, Moctar seems genuinely thrilled to share Tuareg music with the world. “Our music talks a lot about love,” he says. “It’s also music to support warriors and raise their spirits. So it can be very revolutionary and poetic.”

That revolutionary, poetic sensibility appears all throughout Afrique Victime. Moctar describes overwhelming love (for a physical person, for God, for his community, and for the desert), feelings of jealousy, nostalgia, and hatred for the crimes of colonial France. “If we stay silent it will be the end of us,” Moctar sings on the title track. “Why is this happening? What is the reason behind this?”

In writing and recording Afrique Victime, Moctar wanted to take elements of his previous records and blend them together. Moctar calls it a “cocktail.”

“My past albums are very important,” he says. “Their messages are very interesting to me still and they all give me different sensations, deep inside, and I wanted to bring them back to life.”

On Afrique Victime, the listener can hear traditional instruments and field recordings featured on Anar, acoustic instruments from Afelan, and rock elements Moctar utilized on 2019’s Ilana (The Creator). To create Afrique Victime, Moctar really had to look back to his past work and use those albums as a foundation for his new material.

The result is one of the most magnetic records of 2021, and an album that will surely catapult Moctar into further international recognition. That recognition, Moctar says, won’t go unnoticed—by him or by his community. “Us Nigerien musicians, we’ve never been to music school. We just don’t have them here. We just play the best we can and we’re really grateful that our efforts are being recognized.”

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