Tuareg electronic music.
Few living musicians can play the guitar like Mdou Moctar. The Nigerien artist grew up listening to the guitarist Abdallah Ag Oumbadougou, eventually building his own instrument to try and imitate and learn from the legendary artist, who was one of the founders of the blazing North African music often called desert blues. The deft, virtuosic style that Moctar developed himself has become the most recognizable element of his music: a soaring, emotional style often compared to guitarists like Eddie Van Halen. He uses the guitar to play searing, lyrical solos around his talented band, its sinewy and lengthy leads underlining powerful lyrics that discuss subjects like colonialism, women's rights and other social issues, as evidenced by his most recent—and best—album, Afrique Victime.
You might not know it from that description, but Mdou Moctar's relationship with electronic music goes back a long way—his debut album, Anar, recorded in 2008, is credited as one of the first Tuareg records to make use of Autotune and other vocal plug-ins, as his otherworldly vocal phrases float above the pitter-patter of drum machines. It's this newer tradition of Tuareg music he highlights on this mix, a showcase of Nigerien electronic music new and old full of beautiful melodies and spine-tingling textures. We interviewed producer and band member, Mikey Coltun below.
What have you been up to recently?
I've been preparing for the upcoming Mdou Moctar US tour coming up in September. Lots to take care of before the tour starts and since rehearsals with all of us are scarce we each have to make sure we know the tunes coming into the tour. I've been playing some local shows in New York since things have been opening up more, and just working on a bunch of different musical projects!
How and where was the mix recorded?
The way music is shared in the region is through cell phones. Before smartphones existed people would bluetooth songs to each other from one cellphone to another. For example, it's common to take long bus rides to different cities, villages and surrounding countries so you might be sitting on the bus and asking your neighbor, "What are you listening to?" They'd bluetooth over a track or two. This is how music gets spread around over there and in fact how Mdou became known—his first album Anar (first Tuareg renditions of Autotune) was hugely popular in the cellphone trading scene. Nowadays with the boom of technology and smartphones, songs are sent via WhatsApp back and forth. This mix is a small collection of electronic Tuareg songs shared with me via WhatsApp.
Can you tell us about the idea behind the mix?
The importance of electronic music in Tuareg culture is big. Mdou had a big part in the next generation of electronic Tuareg music. Tons of Tuareg people in surrounding countries to Niger—Mali, Algeria, and Libya—are all producing electronic Tuareg music. It's super exciting and beautiful stuff! This was the idea for the mix. Showcase some of my favorite tracks by Tuareg artists from all around Niger who push the traditional style into something more modern.
Can you tell us about some of the artists featured in the mix, and/or who are some of the most important electronic Tuareg musicians?
Abdallah Oumbadougou is considered one of the pioneers of using electronics such as drum machines with Tuareg music. His '90s album Anou Malane was produced by a guy in Benin and so it has a different kind of sound than Adballah's contemporaries, like Tinariwen. Similarly, Mdou was the pioneer of using Autotune with Tuareg music. Mdou cites Abdallah as one of his biggest influences. Abdallah is from a village not far from where Mdou grew up and was the first guitarist he saw live. I think it's interesting that Abdallah went to Benin to work with a producer on Anou Malane, while Mdou went to Nigeria to work on his Anar—both came back with some of the most inspirational and heavily copied styles in modern Tuareg music. So many Taureg artists today in Agadez and beyond use Autotune and drum machines.
Does Mdou Moctar still work with electronics in the latest, more rock-based recordings?
On Afrique Victime we wanted to do a bit of a nod and thank you to Abdallah Oumbadougou and use drum machines with the acoustic tracks on the record. Also I used a lot of 808 blasts, sonic noise through processed field recordings I did in Niger, and subtle electronics to fill out the record a bit. Certainly didn't want to get too far away from the source and energy of the rawness of the band but wanted to try a bigger sound than we did on our last album, Ilana: The Creator.