Monday, September 16, 2019

Deep Ellum, 9.15.2019

It's not often that three people whose opinions I respect pull my coat to the same performer, but when Jeff Economy from the Snackpoint Charlie radio show, Jon Teague (currently on tour with Pinkish Black) and Frank Cervantez of Wire Nest all told me I needed to check out the Tuareg guitarist Mdou Moctar, I had to hear what they were on about, and was favorably impressed. So when I got wind that Mdou was coming to Deep Ellum Art Company -- his first visit to DFW -- I got tickets right away.

While I'd previously enjoyed sounds I'd heard from Mdou's Niger Tuareg countrymen like Group Bombino, Group Inerane, and Group Doueh, Mdou has something extra: tone. He plays a left-handed Strat, inviting Hendrix comparisons, and his base tone uses a phaser and delay to take some of the edge off the bright sound he gets from his two chained Roland JC 120s. He plays fluid lines using a rapidly moving index finger, barring a full step above a capo to facilitate lots of fast trilling. When he kicks on the fuzz box, he sounds a bit like Sonny Sharrock did in the '80s, or Frank Zappa when he was making his neck-tapped "Bulgarian bagpipe" sounds. Then he'll slide and hammer on the strings with his picking hand to create aleatoric excitement in the manner of early Ritchie Blackmore. (All these rock comparisons, by the way, are spurious; Mdou claims not to even know what rock music is. He only incorporated the effects into his rig in 2017.)

His shredding works best when it flows organically out of his distinctive rhythmic feel, and is matched by the plaintive, muezzin-like quality of his singing. All of these qualities are amply in evidence on his new LP, Ilana the Creator, in service of a set of songs about the plight of his people and the exploitation of their desert homeland (helpfully translated on the inner sleeve for the benefit of non-Tuareg language speakers). Live, Mdou's music comes across even more forcefully, accompanied by an agile but powerful combo of rhythm guitar, bass, and drums. Before his overseas discovery, Mdou made his living playing at weddings, but this isn't like any bunch of tuxedoed drones you ever heard. This is trance music, and working off Mazawadje Aboubacar Ibrahim's insistent kick drum, Mdou plays with more insane abandon than on the record, so effortlessly that you might think he can do it in his sleep.

Opening act was the Brazilian psych quartet Boogarins, who were clearly already favorites of a big chunk of the audience. Anchored by YnaiĆ£ Benthroldo's rock-solid drumming and fronted by brashly extroverted Dinho Almeida (imagine a young Hendrix in shorts), who split guitar and vocal duties with the more intense-looking (and fluent English-speaking) Benke Ferraz, the foursome produced swirling textures and pulsing grooves that got the crowd moving, then invited Mdou onstage for an exhibition that was a tantalizing glimpse of things to come. (Except for my wife and me, who'd cheated, getting there early enough to catch Mdou's sound check.)

Deep Ellum Art Company's a congenial venue, highlighted by art on the walls and in the big "art yard" outside, which is home to a couple of cats who looked more relaxed than your normal run of feral city felines, particularly the one who'd had his ear chewed off. He was grooming when we stepped outside and sleeping peacefully in the open when we went back in. The crowd wasn't bad for a Sunday night, but hopefully next time in Dallas, Mdou will get a Friday or Saturday. He deserves to be heard much more widely.


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