Essential New Music: Mdou Moctar’s “Funeral For Justice”

Things are going downhill, and Mahamadou “Mdou Moctar” Souleymane is not happy about it. Souleymane, who has given his stage name to the band he leads, has been building to this moment for a while. He’s been touring the world since 2017, honing a sound that combines the bluesy tonalities and loping beats of guitar music from Africa’s Sahel region with piercing leads, hard-hitting power chords and accelerated rhythms that are part of rock ’n’ roll’s lingua franca. The last Mdou Moctar album, 2021’s Afrique Victime, broached the topics of cultural survival and post-colonial exploitation. Such concerns are front and center on Funeral For Justice, as Souleymane lays it down and says it how he sees it.

What he sees is not good. Written against a backdrop of economic misery and political unrest in his home country of Niger, Funeral For Justice is focused entirely on the erosion of fortune that afflicts your average African. Several songs call out national leaders who don’t care about the people they purport to lead and the Western nations that take more than they give. (These tracks refer especially to France and the United States.) Others mourn the erosion of respect and folkways, concerns that Souleymane fights materially by singing in Tamashek, the Tuareg tongue. However, you don’t need to understand a word or read the translated lyrics to know that Souleymane and crew are outraged. You can hear it in the singing and in the music, which distills the band’s established sound to an essence that is as caustic as it is catchy. Justice may lay six feet underground, but Mdou Moctar is up and swinging. [Matador]

—Bill Meyer