Nigerien Mdou Moctar Transports Toronto With His Desert Rock

A towering figure dressed in a flowing robe and white guitar, Mdou Moctar (birth name: Mahamadou Souleymane) stood awe-inspiring to an enraptured Toronto crowd.

Dubbed “the Hendrix of the Sahara”, the 38-year-old Nigerien guitar virtuoso played the Phoenix Concert Theatre with his three-piece band in promotion of their acclaimed new record Afrique Victime.

As an album – one that straddles the line between manic electric playing and softer acoustic detours – every moment translated beautifully live and in-person. For example, a key track such as Chismiten, with its exceptional wall-of-fuzz tone and guitar soloing, wasted no time immersing attendees into Moctar’s hypnotic “desert rock” soundscapes.

Mdou Moctar from left to right: Michael “Mikey” Coltun, Mahamadou Souleymane, Ahmoudou Madassane. Photo by Myles Herod.

With the addition of bass (Michael “Mikey” Coltun, the band’s only non-Nigerien), drums (powerhouse Souleymane Ibrahim), and rhythm guitar (Ahmoudou Madassane), the group blended modern psychedelic rock with doses of African nuances, demonstrating incredible chemistry onstage together.

As for the songs themselves, Mdou Moctar’s compositions played as either instrumental or sung in his tongue of Tamasheq. Because of that, the evening’s set list resembled a long jam rather than traditional stops and starts. Moreover, beyond a few ‘thank-yous’ whispered throughout the night’s woozy grooves, the music was essentially devoid of lulls. Love or hate it, the extended effect had the power to seep into one’s bones.

Leaning on his superb backup trio, Moctar would occasionally rise onto his toes, as if riding the wave of his own riffs, teasing the close of a song, only to bring it back to life. By night’s end, the audience’s response only grew with loud cheers and clapping, enough to alter Mdou’s stoic face from laser-focus to that of a big, gratified grin.


Myles Herod

Myles Herod

Traveller, image maker, pop-culture seeker, storyteller, a guy you want around when things go south. Tastes range from Kubrick to Krautrock, Wu-Tang to Wiseau. Currently resides in Toronto, Canada.
Myles Herod
Myles Herod

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