As Mdou and his band appeared on stage, there was anticipation and a sense of
wanting but not knowing how to dance to music unwelcomed by even his
family in Niger. With little movement but head bobbing as the band
played an intimate, toned-down set – Souleymane Ibrahim on the
djembe and Mdou on acoustic guitar – a collective imagination,
though, was born.
With smoke adrift, a
reddish-yellow light worked to transform the baroque auditorium into
the desert. It was the opening night of poet Hanif Abdurraqib’s
music series at BAM in Brooklyn, who introduced the quartet, speaking
about how Mdou Moctar exemplifies his desire to spotlight
idiosyncratic, genre-bending artists.
There’s a clip of
Mdou Moctar in Niger’s capital, Niamey, performing the
electric, eponymous track "Afrique Victime” in the winter of
2020. Supposedly, it was an unannounced concert, but word got around.
Kids are seen moshing as Mdou joins the crowd; one woman sways
harmoniously in an orbit. I want that, I thought. But could that
sensibility emerge at BAM? In a way, yes.
When Mdou went
electric in the second set, he told the crowd to stand up. And as he
shredded, everyone listened. The vibe was dynamic and immense; I was
surrounded by dancers and smiling faces.
I noticed a
multiplicity of influence, particularly in the second set. More than
the banal Jimi Hendrix comparison, the group takes broad inspiration from
North African assouf or desert blues, and on this album, there’s
perhaps the inspiration of two singular artists: Eddie Van Halen and
Mikey Coltun, a D.C. native and engineer, producer, and bassist for the band, told Pitchfork: “Mdou developed his own tapping style influenced by Van Halen, and now you see all these young kids in Niger repeating it.”
I didn’t want the show to end so soon, but it did, because of some unfortunate local noise ordinance. Mdou wanted to express his gratitude, but didn’t know what else to say but “thank you, thank you, thank you,” which he said sweetly to a seemingly sold-out audience. It didn’t matter. No word would capture his performance, and all night, he thanked us with his music