With only a plank of wood and a set of old brake wires salvaged from a bicycle, the twelve-year-old Mdou Moctar taught himself not only how to build a makeshift electric guitar but also how to dazzle with it. Raised in a village in central Niger, he initially concealed his experiments from his community, hoping to guard against the backlash he imagined might spring from plugging in ancient, hypnotic Tuareg music, like Dylan at Newport.
Two decades later, Moctar has grown into a dynamic player of global renown who takes cues from Hendrix and Prince while unleashing waves of percussive melody and blistering psychedelic energy on his band’s thrumming rhythms. His tradition is the desert blues practiced by nomadic Saharan people, which is thought to be the melodic through line between the Mississippi Delta and the West African desert. In 2019, on the almost entirely improvised album Ilana (The Creator), Moctar distilled his music into nine fiery meditations on life in Niger—how Tuareg women lack access to basic healthcare and clean water, how French uranium mining has turned the citizens into “modern slaves,” and how colonialism has fractured a nomadic culture. With his band, rhythm guitarist Ahmoudou Madassane, drummer Souleymane Ibrahim, and bassist Mikey Coltun, he expands that terrain with Afrique Victime, which Pitchfork, in a Best New Music rave, called the fullest portrait of Moctar’s gifts yet.