A Tuareg singer/songwriter and guitarist known for his innovative and intense playing style, Mdou Moctar rose from a small village in Niger to earn viral success among West Africa’s cell phone-trading network. An appearance on an American compilation in 2010 led to international recognition and further exploratory releases on the Sahel Sounds label. After starring in a Tuareg-language homage to Purple Rain, Moctar’s sound continued to evolve as he pushed his musical boundaries as a multi-instrumentalist on 2017′s Sousoume Tamachek. Subsequent albums like Ilana: The Creator (2019) and Afrique Victime (2021) found him infusing his African influences with wild electric psychedelia and full-blast rock & roll.
Raised in a small, deeply religious village in central Niger where secular music was frowned upon, Moctar built a crude homemade guitar and secretly began teaching himself how to play. By the time he acquired a real guitar, he learned quickly and began writing songs that blended Saharan Tuareg guitar music with his own unusual innovations and poetic lyrics. Traveling to the Nigerian city of Sokoto in 2008, he recorded his first album, Anar, which featured a strange mix of spacy, Auto-Tuned vocals, synthesizers, drum machines, and his wildly original acoustic guitar licks. Although it didn’t receive a proper release, Anar found an enthusiastic audience within the cell phone-trading networks of West Africa, and it went viral. Two years later, Moctar found his first global audience when two of Anar’s songs were featured on the compilation Music from Saharan Cellphones, Vol. 1 which was released by American indie Sahel Sounds. His second album, 2013′s Afelan, was compiled from various field recordings of performances made around his village and introduced the more aggressive electric guitar style for which he became known.
Following his first tour of Europe, Moctar branched out into acting, starring in and composing the soundtrack for the 2015 film Akounak Tedalat Taha Tazoughai. A West African homage to Prince’s Purple Rain, it was also notable as the first-ever feature film in the Tuareg language. Resuming his recording career in 2017, Moctar released the mellower and entirely self-played Sousoume Tamachek via Sahel Sounds, which by this point had also reissued both of his earlier albums. Growing up listening to the Tuareg and desert blues masters of West Africa, Moctar had little to no exposure to Western rock music, although his fiery playing style and the fact that he performs left-handed on a Fender Stratocaster has often led to comparisons with Jimi Hendrix.
As his international success grew, a wider network of Western musicians came into Moctar’s orbit. In 2018, he traveled to the U.S. to record his fourth album with Detroit-based producer Chris Koltay. The result was the sizzling electric psychedelia of 2019′s Ilana: The Creator, his most musically adventurous album to date. That same year also saw another American release, with Jack White’s Third Man Records issuing the live Blue Stage Sessions album. Returning in 2021, Moctar’s wildly eclectic Afrique Victime included a panoply of sounds ranging from dynamic hard rock solos to field recordings, with plenty in between. The album was one of the year’s most acclaimed, and a deluxe edition, featuring demos and live tracks, followed in 2022. ~ Timothy Monger