9. Mdou Moctar – Tarhatzed
Niger guitar hero Mdou Moctar grew up in Arlit, a uranium mining town near the Algerian border. He made his first guitar out of bicycle brake cables, old wood, and the key from a sardine can – his family disapproved of electric music. His music became popular in sub-Saharan Africa through cellphone music trading networks, and he came to western attention when two of his songs appeared on the compilation Music from Saharan Cellphones: Volume 1. Moctar blends traditional desert music with western guitar heroes – like Jimi Hendrix, he plays a Stratocaster left-handed, while he starred in a low-budget Niger remake of Purple Rain.
‘Tarhatazed’ appeared on Moctar’s first record with a full band, 2019’s Ilana The Creator. He sings in Tamasheq, a Malian variant of Tuareg. but on ‘Tarhatzed’ his guitar is the primary communicator. It’s free-wheeling and psychedelic, dancing around the bluesy riff.
Mdou Moctar has plenty to say politically as well – in this year’s pointedly named Afrique Victime, he sings “Africa is a victim of so many crimes / If we stay silent it will be the end of us / My brothers and sisters, tell me why this is happening?“ But his guitar is even more fluent.