Niger guitarist Mdou Moctar has generated considerable interest in the west via an incendiary album on US label Sahel Sounds, as well as appearing on the renowned Music from Saharan cellphones compilation. He is also due to star in the first fictional film ever made in the Tuareg language, as a struggling young guitarist attempting to make it despite the odds. His trip through Europe has been similarly rocky. With acclaimed shows in France, Portugal and Switzerland, he had his van broken into in Spain and all his vinyl due for sale at the shows and even the band’ distinctive Tuareg clothing were stolen. Yet you wouldn’ know it from the way they approached the show tonight. Cafe Oto is a beacon in London for experimental music, Kevin Drumm had a two night residency last week, Wolf Eyes will be there on Sunday, whilst Wednesday sees Thurston Moore. There’ a feeling that at Cafe Oto musical boundaries can and will be pushed.
On YouTube (see below) you can see clips of Moctar playing in small sweaty clubs, the audience writhing in ecstasy inches from his guitar, surrounding the band, more reminiscent of a punk rock show than the stately grandeur of fellow Tuareg’ Tinariwen and their ilk. Tonight, in a sold out show at Cafe Oto this is entirely representative, as Moctar and his band revel in this hot sweaty crowded club and the energy is palpable. Moctar, a left handed guitarist, is joined by another guitarist and a drummer on a full kit. Whilst there’ no mistaking the distinctive Tuareg blues sound, those expansive elongated electric riffs, Moctar’ sound is more garage blues, more raw, more primal and passionate. When Moctar closes his eyes and solos over the top over a thin repetitive groove a smile creeps onto his face, his hips shudder and he just unleashes a flurry of interweaving notes. Invariably we all start screaming.
They play two sets. In between they wander outside, mingling with the crowd who have similarly burst into the street gasping for air. When they return they open with what can only be described as Tuareg reggae, a lilting groove with those distinctive riffs lurking in the background. It’s a beautiful and unexpected departure, and a further reminder of his desire to continue to push musical and cultural boundaries. The remainder of the set feels taut, almost at times angular, the percussionist in particular is metronomic, incredibly adept at periodically building in density as Moctar solos the same riff over and over and the room builds to a frenzy. It’s this ability to find these peaks within the hypnotism that makes his music so fascinating.
Moctar’ music is designed for the party, it’s raw stripped down music with an incredible groove. Seeing him flailing around, eyes closed sweat flying in such an intimate setting just doesn’t get to happen. This is one of those gigs where you just need to pinch yourself to prove that you are there. Music has rarely been as remarkable or life affirming.
Photo by Carla Martins