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Mdou Moctar At The Brooklyn Academy Of Music Opera House

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Mdou Moctar has a reputation for engrossing live performances and this concert at the Brooklyn Academy of Music Opera House (BAM) on Friday, 25 February, was no exception. He is riding the crest of the popularity of his most recent album, the excellent Afrique Victime, (Matador Records) which made end-of-year best album lists for 2021 in publications such as Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, and the New York Times. Moctar played to a sold-out audience in excess of 2100 people. Moctar hails from the West African country of Niger, where he resides. The country has a rich music tradition, notably Tuareg music, a guitar-driven style that fuses blues, Middle Eastern, and African sounds. The best-known proponents of this style of music hail from Mali as well as Niger, including Tinariwen , Bombino, Amadou and Mariam, and Fatoumata Diawara. Moctar incorporates the Tuareg sounds but more openly embraces rock music than his peers. He is a brilliant and incredibly inventive guitarist who has been hailed as the Jimi Hendrix of the Sahara. He has a distinctively melodic sound reminiscent of Prince, Carlos Santana, and Eddie Van Halen, who he cites as a primary influence.

Moctar was supported by an excellent group including fellow Nigeriens, Ahmoudou Madassane on rhythm guitar and vocals, and Souleymane Ibrahim on drums and percussion. The bassist and record producer, Mikey Coltun, hails from Brooklyn. The band was wearing colorful traditional garb on stage. There was a palpable excitement prior to the concert, and Moctar was greeted with a very enthusiastic response. The concert drew largely on his most recent album with a couple of songs from the equally fine predecessor Ilana (the Creator) (Sahel Sounds, 2019). The roughly 90-minute set opened with Moctar and Ibrahim seated playing djembe (similar to an African conga). This part of the set featured the more traditional and slower tempo songs. Moctar is a deeply religious individual, and the songs have a distinctively spiritual quality. After a time, Ibrahim took a seat behind the drums, Moctar stood, and the band kicked into high gear. The songs were mostly sung in Tamasheq, a native Tuareg language, with a few sung in French, including the title track to the most recent album. The more rock-oriented songs were propelled principally by Ibrahim, an excellent drummer with a rock sensibility. Moctar is an effortless virtuoso and coaxes the most beautiful sounds from his guitar. In live performance, the songs are extended and can take on something of a jam-band quality. However, the strength and distinctiveness of the songs clearly differentiate the band from the garden-variety jam band. The lengthy instrumental passages provided ample opportunity for Moctar to unleash stunning solos. He is not afraid to showboat on occasion and to exciting effect. The rhythm section changed tempos on a dime and thrust the band into overdrive, getting the crowd on its feet and dancing. It was an exhilarating performance. Moctar, who is fluent in French as well as his native tongue, speaks enough English to communicate with the audience, showing a good sense of humor to boot. He was genuinely humbled by the extraordinarily enthusiastic reception.

Bartees Strange, a rock band, based in the Washington DC area, opened the show with an excellent 40-minute set. Their music is alternately guitar and keyboard-driven and fuses indie-rock with R&B and hip hop elements. Bartees Strange is also the stage name of the lead vocalist and guitarist. He is a remarkably dynamic performer and a compelling vocalist.
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