At the beginning of 2020, I saw a YouTube video titled “The Best Guitar Music Today Is Coming From The Sahara Desert”. It talked about the genre tishoumaren, or “desert blues” in English. Dating all the way back to the 1980’s, this extremely political fusion of rock, blues and Tuareg culture came to be from a history of rebel Tuareg musicians who lived in the Sahara to escape military persecution. Among one of the musicians discussed in the video was Mdou Moctar. At the time of that upload, he hadn’t released an album since 2017, and it didn’t garner a lot of worldwide attention. However, since that video made the rounds online, it seems like it might’ve inspired Moctar to sign with Matador and record his newest album, Afrique Victime.
Although the language barrier is as present as ever, especially because the album has not been translated yet as of the posting of this review, the music itself speaks plenty. Tracks like the opener “Christmaten” and “Asdikte Akal” have King Gizzard-like energy with the odd time signatures dictated by a hypnotic and machine-like rhythm section. All of this behind Moctar’s psychedelic and technical lead guitar that absolutely rips with seemingly no effort. The title track is a wonderful blend between the Western hard rock from the beginning of the album with African rhythms and melodies, and there’s still the killer distorted guitar on prominent display throughout the track. “Tala Tannam” is my favorite acoustic cut off the album with it’s fluttering acoustic guitar, minimalist percussion and relaxed vocals blending together really well. “Bismilahi Atagah” is a perfect closer, turning things down a notch while still remaining positive. It’s as if Moctar is tying the bow on top of the entire album and celebrating its completion, and it’s well deserved.
The sudden burst of popularity they achieved through the internet back at the beginning of the year might’ve raised expectations for this release, but Moctar totally met and exceeded them with this great album. Although bright and shiny pop might be the obvious answer for the sound of the summer, Afrique Victime definitely deserves to have a few spots on the playlist