In his native country of Niger, singer-songwriter Mdou Moctar taught himself to play guitar by watching videos of Eddie Van Halen’s iconic shredding. When you hear his unique psych-rock hybrid—a mix of traditional Tuareg melodies with the kinds of buzzing strings and trilling fret runs that people often associate with the recently deceased guitar god—it makes sense. Moctar has honed that stylistic fingerprint over the course of five albums, after first being introduced to Western audiences via Sahel Sounds’ now cult classic compilation Music From Saharan Cellphones, Vol. 1, and in the process has been heartily embraced by indie rock fans based on his sound alone (he also plays on Bonnie "Prince” Billy and Matt Sweeney’s Superwolves album).
The songs that make up Afrique Victime alternate between jubilant, sometimes meandering and jammy (the opening “Chismiten”)—mirroring his band’s explosive live shows—and more tightly wound, raga-like and reflective (the trance-inducing “Ya Habibti”). But within the music, there’s a deeper, often political context: Recorded with his group in studios, apartments, hotel rooms, backstage, and outdoors, the album covers a range of themes: love, religion, women’s rights, inequality, and the exploitation of West Africa by colonial powers. “I felt like giving a voice to all those who suffer on my continent and who are ignored by the Western world,” Moctar tells Apple Music. Here he dissects each of the album’s tracks.
“Chismiten” “The song talks about jealousy in a relationship, but more importantly about making sure that you’re not swept away too quickly by this emotion, which I think can be very harmful. Every individual, man or woman, has the right to have relationships outside marriage, be it with friends or family.”
“Taliat” “It’s another song that addresses relationships, the suffering we go through when we’re deeply in love with someone who doesn’t return that love.”
“Ya Habibti” “The title of this track, which I composed a long time ago, means ‘oh my love’ in Arabic. I reminisce about that evening in August when I met my wife and how I immediately thought she was so beautiful.”
“Tala Tannam” “This is also a song I wrote for my wife when I was far away from her, on a trip. I tell her that wherever I may be, I’ll be thinking of her.”
“Asdikte Akal” “It’s about my origins and the sense of nostalgia I feel when I think about the village where I grew up, about my country and all those I miss when I’m far away from them, like my mother and my brothers.”
“Layla” “Layla is my wife. When she gave birth to our son, I wasn’t allowed to be by her side, because that’s just how it is for men in our country. I was on tour when she called me, very worried, to tell me that our son was about to be born. I felt really helpless, and as a way of offering comfort, I wrote this song for her.”
“Afrique Victime” “Although my country gained its independence a long time ago, France had promised to help us, but we never received that support. Most of the people in Niger don’t have electricity or drinking water. That’s what I emphasize in this song.”
“Bismilahi Atagah” “This one talks about the various possible dangers that await us, about everything that could make us turn our back on who we really are, such as the illusion of love and the lure of money.”