Nigerian guitarist Mdou Moctar and his virtuoso band combine explosive energy with riveting musicianship on “Funeral For Justice”.

With versatile compositions and genre defying albums, Mdou’s music has been an underground success with an international following, set on redefining the sound of the desert.

Mdou Moctar hails from a small village in the Azawagh desert of Niger, a remote region steeped in religious tradition. As a child, he taught himself to play the a homemade guitars, cobbled together out of planks of wood. It was years later before he found a “real” guitar, teaching himself in secret.

On the guitar, he is a spellbinding psychedelic soloist, with a style that draws as much from Jimi Hendrix as from traditional Tuareg wedding dances, and he has earned an awed respect from some of rock’s most famous axe-wielders.

Championed by Chris Kirkley via his label Sahel Sounds, the Nigerien luminary has finally reached the top with his most recent record. He made the first ever feature film in the Tamashek language called “Rain the Color Of Blue With a Little Red In It”.

Anti-colonial politics

“Funeral for Justice,” the new album by the African musician Mdou Moctar, opens with a blast of angry, snarling guitar and an accusation raised like a fist against the rulers of his native Niger and beyond.

“African leaders, hear my burning question,” Moctar sings, as his band churns with a ragged intensity reminiscent of vintage White Stripes. “Why does your ear only heed France and America?”

“Imouhar” distinguishes itself as perhaps the most dynamic rock song of the year so far, with Moctar and co. wholeheartedly embracing lo-fi scuzz before breaking out into a stadium-sized roll. 

Explosive instrumentation

As ever, Moctar’s instrumentation is as incendiary as his words. His virtuoso guitar work – all fast-evolving riffs and thrillingly fluid soloing – is the focal point throughout, lifting the likes of Tchinta and Sousoume Tamacheq to a higher plane. His US-Nigerien band are just as important, however, building on the propulsive Tuareg desert blues, popularised two decades ago, and creating an unstoppable momentum behind him.

Funeral For Justice

Even by Mdou Moctar’s high standards, Funeral for Justice is extraordinary. It is searing in music and lyrics, with messages that are essential in a world on fire and whose sounds can carry those messages far and wide.

More than any previous Mdou Moctar album, it feels alive: Moctar and his whole band are in the room with their listeners, fanning the flames of righteous resolve and reminding us that if justice is dead, there’s no more fitting tribute to it than raising our voices on its behalf.

NMR (foto: press Ebru-Yildiz)