THE WOMAD WORLD RETURNS TO TARANAKI (2022): Here comes a Hendrix from the desert

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THE WOMAD WORLD RETURNS TO TARANAKI (2022): Here comes a Hendrix from the desert

From Sweetwaters and the Big Day Out through Auckland's Laneway and summer concerts like Splore, often the event's atmosphere is as much the attraction as who's on the bill.

That's especially true of the WOMAD festival (World of Music, Arts and Dance) in New Plymouth. Some book tickets without knowing much about the line-up. And even when it is revealed, many artists from all corners of the globe will be unfamiliar.

Next year's WOMAD in March – returning after two years of Covid postponements and celebrating 20 years in New Plymouth's Brooklands Park – has familiar local names (Fly My Pretties, Avantdale Bowling Club and American-born R'n'B soul singer Deva Mahal among them) and internationals to be discovered: Cimafunk from Cuba, Kefaya and Elaha Soroor (Afghanistan/UK), Pakistan's Rizwan Muazzam Qawwals group and many more.

There are however some major players among the internationals, notably Youssou N'Dour from Senegal, Zambia-born hip-hop star Sampa The Great and Niger's singer/guitarist Mdou Moctar.

Moctar's 2021 Afrique Victime was on many Best Albums of the Year lists (ours included). We hailed its “dense Gordian Knots of coiling guitars from Moctar and his foil Ahmoudou Madassane [which] created electrifying Tuareg rock-blues”.

Called “the Jimi Hendrix of the desert” by The Economist, Moctar built his first guitar out of bicycle cables and wood, grew up on the traditional Takamba music of the nomadic Tuareg people, recorded his 2008 debut album Anar in his early 20s (where he used Auto-Tune and drum machines) and starred in a 2015 tribute film to Prince's Purple Rain movie (with necessary changes for the Muslim actors and audience).

He recorded his 2019 Ilana album in the Detroit studio used by the city's garageband heroes the Dirtbombs.

mdouMoctar is in the lineage of “desert blues”, or “Sahara blues”, musicians which emerged in the 90s. Groups like Tinariwen and Etran Finatawa brought their distinctive music and the Tuareg rebellion into mainstream Western culture.

These people from areas of Niger, Mali, Algeria and Libya were demanding autonomy so their music was often politically loaded and sometimes seethed with fury bent into complex tapestries of mercurial guitars and drone-like sounds.

The description desert/Sahara blues is imprecise but useful because the raw sound can seem like a kindred spirit of American blues.

Among Tuareg musicians – many now living in exile – the first practitioners heard little Western music, but those of Moctar's generation have been exposed to rock music. He cites Hendrix and Van Halen among his influences, as well as his desert blues predecessors.

Following a strict Muslim code of behaviour and railing against the trickle-down of French colonialism in Niger, Moctar is as unique in the landscape of international music as Bob Marley was, and his incendiary seven minute-plus song Afrique Victime (in Tamashek and French) is a typically explosive slice of guitar-propelled psychedelic rock.

With earlier albums and EPs available (which include thrilling live recordings) and a remix of the Afrique Victime album, Mdou Moctar is a fascinating 21st century artist with deep cultural, political, religious and rock roots.

Definitely one to catch at WOMAD.

WOMAD NZ, Brooklands Park, New Plymouth, 17-19 March 2023. Tickets on sale now:

Music by Mdou Moctar is available at bandcamp here

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