Mdou Moctar‘s mystique is well-earned. The story of his origin is like something out of a comic book, but instead of him becoming a super hero, he merely became a ‘Guitar God’. When you read about how his rise to fame is the result of a trading network of cellphones and memory cards, you are immediately given a sense of place and global context. Had he been born in America, like many of his adoring fans that packed his two sold out nights at the Lodge Room, who knows how far his gifts would’ve taken him already. But coming from Niger and playing Tuareg guitar has made Mdou’s music not only exotic and mystical but a sort of generational upheaval, a reward for decades of struggle.
Mdou Moctar’s Desert Daze set from 2019 made him a hot ticket for the LA psychedelic scene. He sold out two shows at the Lodge Room almost immediately. Even though the Lodge Room has been selling out shows left and right, this one became a must-see show especially fast. Part of this appeal is that LA audiences know how difficult it is for an international act to get into the country to tour right now, these shows in particular was already postponed once. Having not attended Mdou’s set at Desert Daze, I was curious as to why exactly he’s become such an in-demand attraction and the moment you see him play guitar, you understand rather quickly. His talent is in a league of its own, in the same way Jimi Hendrix had no peers, Mdou Moctar’s style of playing makes him a phenom. They used to call Clapton “Slowhand”, and I think Mdou ought to have a nickname like that too. He’s of the level.
Opening for Mdou was Xiu Xiu, a band that dabbles in all sorts of experimentation and ‘avant-gardening’, like for these two evenings in which they scrapped the melody and serenity for pure noise. I love a good noise set and have seen many masters of the craft in my time, this duo’s effort compared with the best of them. Playing with all sorts of oral instruments and bells and whistles, all culminating in the bashing of a piano that pantomimed the sound of reality itself crumbling as if every unit…every lego-block used to build this simulation…were turned to dust before our ears.
Mdou’s fingerwork on the guitar is completely organic. There’s no force or thought to it, it’s smoother than water. From God to soul to audience, the music is a direct transmission from the heavens with Mdou as the interpreter–and that transmission is to dance and have fun because that is what life is all about. The whole evening, the Lodge Room was jiving to this African style of dance music that is pure joy and sensuality incarnate. If your body doesn’t get moving to this then you must be a stiff. It used to be the case that Los Angeles was afraid to dance at shows, I think that stereotype will become a relic of the past. Post-pandemic Los Angeles dances to everything and Mdou Moctar is just the beginning.