Mdou Moctar review – passionate shredding by Nigerien guitar hero

Komedia, Brighton
Moctar’s Tuareg-language rock has been justifiably compared to Eddie Van Halen – it is utterly thrilling

‘Fuck this world music, this racist term. This is a rock band,” Mikey Coltun told Wire magazine in February. Coltun, bassist in Mdou Moctar’s backing trio, was right. Anyone inclined to take Nigerien guitarist Moctar or his band at face value will be disabused of the “world music” notion as soon as they start to play. In calf-length Tuareg robes and turban-like white tagelmusts, they passionately shred and lock into psychedelic grooves. Singing in the Tuareg language Tamasheq, Moctar rewrites the guitar-hero rulebook: lesson one is that surging guitar music marinated in the African/American folk fusion known as desert blues is rock.

Ostensibly here to promote the resoundingly praised current album, Afrique Victime, Moctar – “the Hendrix of the Sahara”, as he’s been tagged – is the type who needs no excuse to unpack his white left-handed Stratocaster and play. In an inversion of the usual rock star entrance, the 38-year-old even arrives on stage before his band, who amble on a few minutes later. The four are quickly immersed in the 2017 track Amidini, which proceeds from delicately finger-picked opening bars to psych-drone. Next, Kamane Tarhanin explains the many comparisons to Eddie Van Halen.

New Yorker Coltun, the lone American in the group, has said that moshpits and crowd-surfing often break out at their shows, and we find out why: when Moctar slides into a melodic pattern and the others fall in step with him, creating layer on thrusting layer of noise at stunning speed, the urge to hurl yourself at another person arises. Packed in shoulder-to-shoulder, tonight’s crowd have to make do with vigorous body-shaking.

Moctar, who doesn’t interrupt the flow by speaking to the audience, is a striking figure. A head taller than Coltun, rhythm guitarist Ahmoudou Madassane and a drummer, Souleymane Ibrahim, who redefines the word “powerhouse”, Moctar nods along to the beat while otherwise remaining impassive. Not even the political urgency of the show-closing song, Afrique Victime, which excoriates former colonial ruler France for leaving Niger impoverished, induces a change of expression. Moctar just lets his thrilling music do the talking.

• At Hare and Hounds, Birmingham, 7 April. Then touring.


Caroline Sullivan

The GuardianTramp

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