Photo: Jamie Kelter Davis.

Mdou Moctar Treads Lightly On 'Afrique Refait' Remix Album

The Niger guitarist and songwriter gets remixed by many of Africa's cutting-edge electronic producers in Afrique Refait.

Mdou Moctar, Niger's maverick songwriter, puts down his guitar and lets others have a go on the release of Afrique Refait—a remix of last year's outstanding Afrique Victime LP on US imprint Matador Records.

An album that blazes with the crystallized energy of the Sahara: Afrique Victime stands up as a furious attack on the French military's presence in his home region of the Sahel and takes the listener on a psychedelic death trip—from fury to genuine sorrow and back again.

Moctar has gone from local hero in his city of Agadez to international acclaim; having his music widely shared on Bluetooth from one cellphone to another in Niger, to being constantly on the road across the U.S. and the rest of the world. His 2015 Rain the Color of Blue with A Little Red In It, a remake of Prince's Purple Rain movie, set in the desert rather than in Minneapolis was outrageously inspiring and demonstrated that he could more than live up to the bill as a challenging artist with universal appeal.

Afrique Refait, which seems to be driven by Moctar's producer and bassist Mikey Coltun, takes the album away from the infinite cosmos and into the studios of many of Africa's cutting-edge electronic producers. As a means to support and bring attention to African artists as well as keeping Afrique Victime in the spotlight, it manages to largely offer only a spotty take on the original songs and damp evidence to what these artists are capable of when creating music from scratch.

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Photo: WH Moustapha.

Mdou Moctar Explains the Meaning of 'Afrique Victime'

We chat to the high-flying Niger guitarist about his latest album and the role colonial powers have played in crimes across his Tuareg community and the rest of Africa.

Mdou Moctar's voice is ringing loudly in my ears as we sit 5000 miles apart to talk about his latest album Afrique Victime, which came out recently on New York's legendary Matador Records. Calling from the ancient city of Agadez, he tells me that "music is forbidden in Islam" and whilst listening to "Chismiten", the opening track to this wildly graceful record, you can almost understand why.

As crunching footsteps lead you in, giving immediate context to space and terrain, the majestic reverb of spiraling riffs and high-pitched cries fling you into a world of infinite zooming. It offers no less than the promises of the cosmos, a psychedelic weaving at hand that evokes the many mysteries that can be rung from a guitar. Backed by a rhythm section that lurches into terrifying joy, Mdou Moctar is a man absolutely possessed by talent, unafraid. A timeless voice from the dusty villages of Niger that soothes and provokes in equal measure.

From the chaotic and violent crescendos of the title track to the plaintive voices that echo through you in "Tala Tannam" there are moments on this record that match the most defiant wile outs of Jimi Hendrix. Jimi grooved to Tuareg and Berber rhythms, himself, when travelling down the coast of 1970's Morocco, but Mdou Moctar has created a whole new experience. And whilst calling out the crimes being committed by the French military in his region, where blood spills over Uranium are a very real thing, he points a finger at us all. It's a feeling that is hard to shrug off.

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