Mdou Moctar Gives ‘Afrique Victime’ Songs A Workout at Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) (SHOW REVIEW

Last Friday night guitar sensation Mdou Moctar brought his tour behind last year’s standout Afrique Victime back to Brooklyn for a special performance at the Howard Gilman Opera House at Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM). Billed as the first time he’d perform the entire album, the concert served as the first in a series curated for BAM by poet and essayist Hanif Abdurraqib. Following a rock solid opening set from indie darling Bartees Strange, who played highlights off his debut Live Forever along with a couple of new songs, Abdurraqib took the stage to welcome the audience and give insight into how he approached this project.

Boasting a lineup that features performances from Moses Sumney, Mavis Staples, and Little Simz among others over the next three months, Abdurraqib referred to the undertaking as “one of the great honors” of his life, and explained that he had sought out artists who “build an entire experience; an entire world to dive into” with their music and their performance. He had certainly found the right artist to kick things off in Mdou Moctar, whose blend of hypnotic grooves and virtuosic guitar playing had the audience spellbound throughout the entire set, from its gentle beginnings to its rapturous finish.

Moctar began the show by heaping thanks upon the appreciative crowd before taking a seat with an acoustic guitar and playing a quick run of fluttering melodies that led into the opening groove of “Tala Tannam”, where he was joined by his bandmates, Mikey Coltun on bass, Ahmoudou Madassane on electric rhythm guitar, and Souleymane Ibrahim on djembe. The synchronicity between the four players was notable immediately, each weaving their instrument around the others to form an interlocked web of a groove on a string of some of the mellower cuts off Afrique Victime, including the bluesy “Layla” and particularly spirited performance of “Bismillahi Atagah”. 

After the acoustic first half, it was time for the night’s main event, with Ibrahim taking a seat behind a full drum set and Moctar strapping on his Stratocaster and stepping to the front of the stage to unleash a rapid-fire lick, his guitar roaring across the theater’s domed ceiling sounding as if it could swallow you whole. The electrified band tore their way through the remaining Afrique Victime songs with increasing intensity, and while Mdou’s immense guitar skills are obviously the star of the show, as highlighted by the absolutely blistering solos he tossed out almost nonchalantly on the crackling “Chismiten”, the complex grooves being laid down on the kit by Ibrahim, at lightning speed and with metronomic precision in what was a true feat of dexterity and stamina, might make him the show’s true MVP. 

They saved their wildest jam for last, ending the set with a maxed-out take on the album’s title track that had Moctar busting out the kinds of guitar tricks that have earned him numerous Hendrix comparisons, sliding and tapping his fingers along the fretboard and using his effects to send its sound spinning into space in between dizzying solo flourishes. All the while the band kept the groove locked in tight with each other while sending it charging forward, giving the audience a place within the mesmerizing sonic maelstrom to lose themselves. As they left the stage Mdou once again fervently thanked the crowd and soon returned to close out the evening with a rendition of “Sousoume Tamachek,” off his 2017 album of the same name, that started with him solo before the band joined back in for one last electric rave-up.

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