At the close of the 19th century, imperial France crept into Niger, dispatching military expeditions across the sub-Saharan country. The Voulet–Chanoine mission was one such monstrous endeavor, during which French troops massacred thousands of Nigerien men, women, and children. They left bodies hanging from trees and piled corpses at the entrances of razed villages as they pillaged through the country. Hundreds of years later, the full extent of the atrocities committed by the French in the region remains almost unspeakable.
Mdou Moctar reckons with this colonialist violence on “Afrique Victime,” the seven-minute title track from the Tuareg guitarist’s forthcoming album. “Africa is a victim of so many crimes/If we stay silent, it will be the end of us,” he cries out in French, and later, Tamasheq. “Why is this happening? What is the reason behind this?/My brothers and sisters, tell me why is this happening?” His voice is as piercing as his Stratocaster, which sears across the left channel as he repeats this refrain, gradually joined by a chorus of singers.
This is both a song of mourning and a rallying cry; a remembrance of pain and a call for solidarity in rejecting imperialist power. As the tempo gradually picks up, Moctar channels that fury and determination into a blistering guitar solo, unleashing a miniature history of rock virtuosity as the band leaps forward, following his dynamic lead. He is at once Tuareg rock’s past and future, expanding on the legacy of his forebears while remaining laser-focused on the issues facing Niger and Africa today. As Moctar said shortly before the song’s release, “Africa is innocent. The French use our uranium, but 90 percent of the people here don’t have electricity. Imagine.”