Whilst Niger Tuareg artist Mdou Moctar is best known for a rawer, almost garage rock feel to his desert blues, he has frequently demonstrated that he’s more than willing to step outside expectations and do something out of the norm. He first came to the attention of Sahel Sounds boss Chris Kirkley thanks to his studio recorded Tahoultine, with electronic drums and vocals treated with a bizarre autotune effect. You can hear it on Music for Saharan Cellphones. Even his Afelan featured much more hypnotic acoustic guitar than you’d expect from a renowned rocker.
His most recent Portland recorded album, Sousoume Tamachek again defies expectations, a solo predominantly acoustic album that taps into his soulful sound without the bluster, swagger and occasional distortion we’ve come to expect. Sahel Sounds seem to delight in these kind of expectation defying moments. The first Fatou Seidi Ghali & Alamnou Akrouni album Les Filles de Illighadad again showed a gentler more acoustic and female take on the predominantly male dominated Tuareg sound. Sousoume Tamachek is Moctar’s take, with lead and rhythm guitar, call and response vocals and even the percussion on calabash all played by Moctar.
The music harkens back to his youth, when he learnt guitar in secret, playing only to friends. The songs are ballads, love songs, and religious praise music. He calls it “music for desert picnics,” the music he would play sitting under a tree laughing with friends.
The music really possesses that kind of lazy feel. There’s no hurry. It’s gentle, introspective and hypnotic, with close mic’d vocals extended guitar solos. It feels immediate, like all manner of artifice has been removed and all we’re left is raw, though somewhat subdued emotion. There’s a rough-hewn rickety-ness to Moctar’s constructions, yet this only exacerbates the hair standing on the back of your neck feeling he elicits. This is a very different Moctar, and whilst there’s no denying the energy and sheer exuberance of his live performance, there’s something that feels infinitely more powerful here.