Album Of The Week

Album Of The Week: Mdou Moctar Funeral For Justice


Funeral For Justice is a fantastic record that should not have to exist. Last summer, during Tuareg rocker Mdou Moctar’s North American tour, his home country of Niger was thrown into chaos when right-wing militants overthrew the government. The coup temporarily stranded Moctar, aka Mahamadou Souleymane, and bandmates Ahmoudou Madassane and Souleymane Ibrahim in the US, wondering what would become of their loved ones back home. It was an infuriating, terrifying situation, but it was hardly the first upsetting development in Nigerien politics lately. Moctar was so distraught and enraged by his country’s situation that he and the band had already completed their new album of political rallying cries before the coup.

Moctar has made it clear that he does not support the militants who ousted the democratically elected President Mohamed Bazoum last summer, but he also was unhappy with the decades of French and American meddling in Niger that precipitated the coup. On 2019’s Ilana: The Creator, he took France to task for exploiting Niger’s uranium supply, and the incendiary title track from 2021’s Afrique Victime lamented France’s “Voulet-Chanoine mission,” a 19th century massacre that left thousands of Nigeriens dead. This is not a new subject for this band because to live in Niger is to live with this history.

Funeral For Justice lashes out at both African leaders and colonialist powers, lacing Moctar’s Saharan rock with shout-along slogans to go along with the rumbling rhythms and guitar heroism. Emerging from the interlude “Djallo #1,” which is just begging to be sampled on a Missy Elliott song, the fired-up “Oh France” addresses his country’s historic oppressors head on, with call-and-response lyrics that read clunky on the page but connect on record, in Moctar’s native tongue: “France’s actions are frequently veiled in cruelty/ We are better off without its turbulent relation/ It’s high time we grasp its endless lethal games it plays.” On “Imouhar,” he calls on Tuareg people to preserve their Tamasheq language rather than let it be swallowed up by French, while “Funeral For Justice” appeals to African leaders to retake control of their countries and “quit sleeping.” The album ends not on a note of uplift but with a soft acoustic ramble called “Modern Slaves.”

Yet despite its title, despite its context, despite everything, Funeral For Justice is too energized to be depressing. It does not sound like the work of defeated people. Amidst the snaking riffs and battered snare of “Tchinta” is a nostalgic love letter to Moctar’s homeland: “Ascending the majestic crest of Chinayfed dune/ Nostalgia for my land engulfs my soul.” The protest songs course with the same positive energy. Trembling with dismay yet joyous in its resilience, the album sounds like an uprising even before you know what Moctar is singing — and unless you speak Tamasheq, you’re going to need a translated lyrics sheet to get the full picture.

The grooves, however, are intuitive. Whether channeling Jimi Hendrix’s blues-rock masterpiece “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)” on “Imouhar,” evoking a desert mirage on the acoustic-led “Takoba,” or locking into the jerking, pounding 6/8 rhythms that have become their default mode, the band is exceptionally good at sweeping listeners away. At this point I should clarify that nowadays Mdou Moctar is a band name, not just Mahamadou Souleymane’s stage name — sort of an Alice Cooper situation where the moniker applies to both the individual and the collective. For years, Moctar, his fellow guitarist Madassane, drummer Ibrahim, and American bassist Mikey Coltun have been traversing the globe, developing the powerful chemistry captured here, spinning out riffs that crack like whips and undergirding them with music that incites involuntary movement. You can hear how far they’ve come, how they’ve fine-tuned their approach for maximum impact. On Funeral For Justice, the guitars are sharper and nastier than ever, and the beats hit harder than they did two albums ago.

Even within the lineage of “assouf” — the desert blues style with one foot in American blues-rock history and the other in traditional Saharan sounds, popularized by bands like Tinariwen — Mdou Moctar stand out. They’re one of the most electrifying units in the world, summoning a resounding force that feels almost universal in its appeal despite its hyperlocal origins. They’re a testament to the way great music can become a vessel for important messages, spreading the culture and plight of the Tuareg people to an audience who might not otherwise have known. Maybe it’s a naive sentiment, but hopefully someday they’ll be able to apply this celebratory sound to lyrics about how things back home are finally getting better.

Funeral For Justice is out 5/3 on Matador.

Other albums of note out this week:
• Dua Lipa’s Radical Optimism
• Jessica Pratt’s Here In The Pitch
• Kamasi Washington’s Fearless Movement
• Camera Obscura’s Look To The East, Look To The West
• Snarls’ With Love
• Lightning Bug’s No Paradise
• Hana Vu’s Romanticism
• Charlotte Day Wilson’s Cyan Blue
• American Culture’s Hey Brother, It’s Been A While
• S. Raekwon’s Steven
• evilgiane & Slimesito’s EVILSLIME
• Sia’s Reasonable Woman
• Kacy Hill’s BUG
• Blushing’s Sugarcoat
• Jharis Yokley’s Sometimes, Late At Night
• Frank Turner’s Undefeated
• The Lemon Twigs’ A Dream Is All We Know
• Sam Gendel & Sam Wilkes’ The Doober
• Ibibio Sound Machine ‘s Pull The Rope
• Into It. Over It.’s Interesting Decisions: Into It. Over It. Songs (2020 – 2023)
• Jon Mckiel’s Hex
• Vacation’s Rare Earth
• Better Than Ezra’s Super Magick
• Love 666’s Take A Chance On Death
• Rachel Chinouriri’s What A Devastating Turn Of Events
• Loren Kramar’s Glovemaker
• Keith Wallen’s Infinity Now
• Sofi Paez’s Silent Stories
• Death Lens’ Cold World
• SticklerPhonics’s Technicolor Ghost Parade
• Elkka’s Prism Of Pleasure
• Kitty Coen’s HELLCAT
• Emily Nenni’s Drive & Cry
• Kee Avil’s Spine
• Kelly Jones’ Inevitable Incredible
• Steph Richards’ Power Vibe
• Beams’ Requiem For A Planet
• Wheel’s Charismatic Leaders
• Gloom Girl MFG’s Polycrisis EP
• Ibelisse Guardia Ferragutti & Frank Rosaly’s MESTIZX
• Spurts’ That Was Mean And I’m Sorry
• Dan Rincon’s Spotlight City
• Penny Arcade’s Backwater Collage
• Terminal Nation’s Echoes Of The Devil’s Den
• Amy Aileen Wood’s The Heartening
• ghost piss’s Dream Girl
• Emily Barker – Fragile As Humans
• Contention’s Artillery From Heaven
• Gabbarein’s Gabbarein
• ANCST’s Culture Of Brutality
• mehro’s trauma lullabies
• Lou Barlow, Cory Hanson, W. Cullen Hart, & Mark Robinson’s Lou Reed tribute Metal Machine Muzak
• Sunny Day Real Estate’s Diary (Live at London Bridge Studio)
• Narrow Head’s Moments Of Clarity (Deluxe)
• Broadcast’s Spell Blanket – Collected Demos 2006-2009
• John Carpenter, Cody Carpenter, & Daniel Davies’ Lost Themes IV: Noir
• Agriculture’s Living is Easy EP
• Demo Division’s Sunken Skin EP
• DM Stith’s Flowers & Monks EP
• No Windows’ Point Nemo EP
• Naima’s City Lights EP
• LA Priest’s La Fusion EP
• Nell Mescal’s Can I Miss It For A Minute? EP
• Evangeline’s When Demigods Go… EP
• Necropanther’s Oblivion Jones: A Tale Of False Consciousness EP

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