Tuareg musician and songwriter Mdou Moctar, who grew up and started playing in Niger in West Africa, is embarking on a massive tour.
He is traveling with the three musicians in his band through North America, with a stop on Sept. 15 at Ace of Cups, and then on through Europe later in the year.
He’s ready for the trek.
“Honestly, we’re very used to tours, so not even a second thought goes into it,” he said, speaking by phone from New York. (Moctar spoke in French, with questions and answers translated by Penny Campbell.)
As accustomed as he is to tours, they still present a few problems.
Life on the road
“One thing is the time difference with our native countries. When it’s nighttime in New York and our families are just waking up and they want to talk, we can’t, because we need to sleep. Then they think, oh, you’ve changed, and we have to apologize and say, oh, we really needed to sleep,” Moctar, 36, said.
“And then there’s the traveling. Sometimes we get back from a show at 2 or 3 a.m., and the next day we have to get up super early because we have a flight, and then we travel 16 hours and reach a place and set up and start playing. And obviously, people are expecting us to give them so much energy that it makes them want to dance, as if we just got up from a nice nap, when really, we’ve just been on the road for 16 hours.”
But touring isn’t all bad.
“For me, touring is like my school. I see all these different people with different mindsets and all these different places. It makes me want to travel the whole world, and see all the magnificence and be able to bring smiles to many different people’s faces through music,” he said.
How it all started
Moctar grew up watching YouTube videos of Eddie Van Halen, and built his own first guitar using bicycle cables as strings. His music spread through northern Africa and beyond through the use of cellphone data cards, which were widely used to distribute music.
In 2015, he wrote and starred in an autobiographical remake of Prince’s “Purple Rain,” titled “Rain the Color of Blue with a Little Red in It,” because the Tamasheq language, in which the film was made, has no word for purple.
He has released five albums. His latest, “Afrique Victime,” combines serene, acoustic love songs with more turbulent songs of social protest, displaying his command of electric guitar.
Most of the songs are sung in Tamasheq, his native language.
“Each of the songs is like a piece of me and the feelings I have deep inside of me,” he said. “Songs like ‘Layla’ and some of the others are talking about love, so they’re very soft.”
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The title song of the album switches between Tamasheq and French. It’s an anthem that frequently transitions into searing guitar solos.
“The song is talking about the consequences of French colonialism in Africa today,” he said. “There has been a lot of unnecessary death on the continent, really for nothing. Many leaders were assassinated. It’s a call for people to wake up.
“The sound of the guitar is quite different, as I want to transmit the emotions that go with the message. That song has more solos, and when you listen to it, the aim is for you to feel the rage through the sounds.”
At a glance
Mdou Moctar will perform at Ace of Cups on Sept. 15. The performance is sold out.