Mdou Moctar’s Guitar Is a Screaming Siren Against Africa’s Colonial Legacy

“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?”

Over about a decade of touring in the West, Moctar, 40, has carved out a niche as a modern African guitar hero and one of the very few voices in the pop world calling attention to the struggles of the Tuareg people, a historically nomadic ethnic group in the Sahara region. On the guitar, he is a spellbinding psychedelic soloist, with a style that draws as much from Jimi Hendrix and Eddie Van Halen as from traditional Tuareg wedding dances, and he has earned an awed respect from some of rock’s most famous axe-wielders.

“Us guitar players in the West, we all have the same base vocabulary, the same handful of stereotypical licks,” Kirk Hammett of Metallica said in an interview. “But Mdou’s music, it’s almost free of that stuff. And because of that, it sounds more spontaneous. It sounds fresh. It’s amazing.”

Moctar’s band plays hypnotic grooves built on the harmonic foundations that West African music shares with the blues, lit up by his own pyrotechnic solos.Credit…Johnny Louis/Getty Images)

Moctar’s last album, “Afrique Victime,” was on many music critics’ year-end lists in 2021, with Jon Pareles of The New York Times saying it “expands the sonic possibilities of Tuareg rock.” But “Funeral for Justice,” due May 3, amps up the urgency in his work. It is a cri de coeur of screaming guitars and lyrics decrying the legacy of colonialism in Niger and throughout Africa, where Western powers retain a strong but not always welcome influence, and political and economic instability are endemic hazards.

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