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Labor of Love: Mdou Moctar
First distributed through a secretive trade network of cellphones and memory cards in West Africa, the music of Mdou Moctar draws from a particular style of Berber music unique to the Tuareg, a nomadic people who occupy a vast swath of the Sahara desert stretching across Northern Africa from Burkina Faso to Mali, Algeria, all the way over to Libya and down through Moctar’s own Niger and into Nigeria.
Moctar’s intoxicating sound is both deeply traditional and distinctly Western. It fuses limber, Middle Eastern-inspired melodies with raw and powerful riffs, shifting on a dime from complex West African rhythms into straight-ahead 4/4 rock beats that seem tailor-made for a drum kit or a calabash. This heady hybrid has a swirling, trance-like effect that’s only a few degrees removed from the absolute best American psych or prog rock.
But Mdou himself insists, in the press release for his new album, Ilana: The Creator, out now on Sahel Sounds, that he has no idea what “rock” really is. He’s heard it, of course, and he really likes it, but what he loves is his music, and he only knows how to play it his way.
Mdou and his band stopped in to show us just how that’s done in a rare acoustic performance.
How did you get your start?
When I was young, I sat around with the musicians and made the tea for them while they played guitar, figuring out how they play.
In these times it's an incredible challenge getting by making music, how do you make it work?
I need to make people happy. That is my goal. When I see people at my concerts dancing and smiling that makes me very happy.
Who were your major influences?
Abdallah Oumbadougou was one of my first influences and now I really like Van Halen, Jimi Hendrix, and Prince.
What guides your playing style?
My playing style comes from the traditional Tuareg music of Takamba - which is played on calabashes and ngonis.
What's your rig?
I use a Fender Stratocaster, Earthquaker Devices pedals and a Roland JC-120.
I built my first guitar from wood. The strings were made from bicycle brakes.
Any gear you can't live without?
I love my Roland Jazz Chorus
What do you have coming up? Albums? Tours?
My new album is out now on Sahel Sounds, Ilana: The Creator. I am touring a lot now, too. We’re touring the West Coast and Midwest through May 2019, Europe in June 2019, Canada in July 2019, US again in the Fall 2019, and many more to be announced!
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