It takes a lot of determination to go against the grain of ancient religious traditions, but for Nigerian artist Mahamadou Souleymane, a.k.a Mdou Moctar, this is exactly what he had to do in order to follow his musical calling. Growing up in a small and remote village in central Niger where anything but religious music was all but prohibited, Mdou Moctar had an affiliation to music from a young age. Teaching himself to play on a homemade guitar he had created out of wood, it was to be years later that he would acquire a ‘real’ guitar. This didn’t stop him from practising and teaching himself in secret, however, and once he had honed his seemingly natural talents, Moctar began to win over local religious leaders with his songs of respect, honour and tradition.
Now known as one of the most innovative artists in contemporary Saharan music, his unusual interpretations of Tuareg guitar have earned him a prominent place in what has become a very crowded scene. Mdou’s style draws on both modern and traditional sources, allowing the origins of this sound to echo through his many compositions where he frequently draws upon Tuareg folklore for inspiration. His guitar sound defines him and his desire to get people up and dancing is something he has always aspired to do ever since he began as a musician playing at weddings: “It’s important to me to make people dance and [be] happy, and the more energy we can create while playing, the more people dance, the more people dance, the more money the musicians make.” ……..This would definitely explain why the press release for his latest album Ilana:The Creator describes some of the music as “raw wedding burners.”
Portland, Oregon label, Sahel Sounds has just (excitedly) announced Mdou Moctar’s latest single, Ibitlan. Recorded at the same sessions as Mdou’s recent album Ilana: The Creator, Ibitlan has been a staple part of Mdou’s band’s live shows over the past years, sometimes being played at lengths of 10+ minutes! Lyrically this track differs to his other material because its a song focused on matters of the heart – as opposed to life in postcolonial Niger. When describing the song, Mdou said, “It’s like when there’s a valley, with a stream running through it, and all the plants are green, the song is about how my girlfriend is beautiful like that. Her skin is like a yellow flower, and her smile is like lightning.” What a fiery song!! You can feel the passion coursing through its fast pace as it races like a heart, pounding out this strong melody and powerfully emotive vocals….and even if you can’t understand the lyrics, its the feel that says it all. If someone had written this for me I’d certainly be moved beyond words!
Ibitlan releases on the 13th of next month and can be pre-ordered from here. Meanwhile you can check it out above.