Mdou Moctar

Some happy moments are easy to relive. A dinner that came together just right. A book worth rereading. An inside joke that keeps making you and a friend laugh.

Then there are moments so singular that you’re filled with gratitude at having experienced them as they zoom away in the rear-view. I can say with certainty that I won’t soon have a Friday evening like last Friday evening.

So many thanks go out to my friend G, who gave me a heads up earlier in the week about an event happening at the University of Richmond involving Tuareg desert blues — a style she and I have a shared enthusiasm for. We’ve sent Sahel Sounds Bandcamp links back and forth, and I even grabbed a used copy of Music from Saharan Cellphones: Volume 2 when I saw it at Plan 9 because I knew she’d dig it.

She repaid me a thousand times over by letting me know that Mdou Moctar, one of the artists featured on that compilation, would be performing at UR after a screening of Akounak Tedalat Taha Tazoughai, which translates to “Rain the color blue with a little red in it.” That’s right — Moctar collaborated with Christopher Kirkley from Sahel Sounds on a remake of Prince’s Purple Rain set in the Sarhara, purple motorcycle and all. It was insanely cool, though I have to confess: I can’t comment on the intertextual angle, because [takes a deep breath] I’ve never seen Purple Rain. I thought about finding it and cramming it into the busy days leading up to the event, but then I fell in love with the idea of seeing Akounak Tedalat Taha Tazoughai first. How fun will watching Prince’s version be for the first time? I seriously can’t wait.

After the screening, Moctar and his band — the same rhythm guitarist and percussionist who backed him in the movie — walked down the auditorium’s aisle to thunderous applause and went on to play six songs, with stretches of Francophone Q&A sprinkled throughout and translated by Kirkley. Especially interesting was hearing how Kirkley and Moctar first connected — wary phone calls, files sent haphazardly via Internet connectivity Moctar likened to what the U.S. would have had in 1996. It’s amazing to think how easily that connection could have been lost. Yet there they were, working together to answer questions from Central Virginians about the movie they made together in the Sahara desert.

Moctar’s playing was exceptional. His left-handed Stratocaster work first seemed more focused on color and shape than virtuosity, as he’s extremely gifted at shading via countermelody. But by the sixth and final song — a chunkier rock tune — Moctar was plucking as fast as I imagine a hummingbird beats its wings, and the runs he unleashed while standing next to the drums and egging his bandmates on were nothing short of jaw-dropping. True to the Saharan Cellphones tradition, I made a few crappy iPhone recordings, and somehow the audio of that last song is even more impressive than my memory of seeing it, which doesn’t even make sense.

I also walked away with a vinyl copy of Moctar’s newest LP, Sousoume Tamachek, signed by the three-man band I’d just seen in-person and onscreen. I’ve been spinning it nonstop — it paints a really varied and intimate picture of Moctar’s approach, with a nice mix of acoustic and electric guitar. Check out the title track below, and click here to see the remaining dates on this tour. Not every stop involves a screen of Akounak Tedalat Taha Tazoughai, but I can guarantee a singular experience nonetheless.

Mdou Moctar — “Sousoume Tamachek” [Bandcamp/Spotify]

Friday News and Notes


I had a whole other News and Notes post written, but there are a few Prince-related things I’d like to share instead.

  • Like a lot of people probably did, I found out he died via Twitter. It’ll most certainly be a “Where were you when…” moment for me, though where I was seems so lame: Zaxby’s. Waiting for my order of chicken fingers. The juxtaposition of such an inspiring cultural figure and such an uninspiring setting is enough to make me want to make some serious life changes.
  • Like David Bowie, Prince represented, for me, a profound bravery. A willingness to be super weird in the name of being true to yourself. I feel intense, normative pressure — I’ve felt it my entire life — and I’m not sure I’ll ever manage to strip enough of that away to be all the weirdo I could be, but listening to artists like Bowie and Prince is one way to experience weirdness vicariously and safely. It’s a pale shade of actually putting yourself out there, but it strikes me as a crucial part of the enormous contribution that Prince made.
  • Social media platforms can facilitate a kind of performative grief that I’m not crazy about, but I do like seeing pictures of the records people are listening to at a time like this. There’s a line from Almost Famous that I’ve always loved, and I think it applies here: “If you ever get lonely, just go to the record store and visit your friends.” Prince may be gone, but you can still pick up and hold a copy of 1999. It’s a real thing with size, weight, and shape. It’s a comfort. Seeing that other people are holding and spinning the same albums — it’s like a big, diffuse vigil. I joined in by spinning Around the World in a Day while cooking dinner last night.
  • Records are especially important in this case, because of Prince’s vigilance when it came to pulling his music from streaming services and sites. You can’t just go to YouTube or Spotify and channel memories that way. I don’t have all his albums, but I have enough to last me until the inevitable and unfortunate postmortem price gouging runs its course. When it does, I recommend getting your hands on hard copies too. It’s the right thing to do generally, but it’s extra meaningful this time around.
  • The last record of his that I bought before he died was a used copy of the Batman soundtrack, and I’d been meaning to write a thing about what that album says about Prince’s character. Doing the soundtrack for a superhero movie that your label’s parent company is making sounds like a recipe for disaster, but he absolutely dove in, writing songs from characters’ perspectives and changing his iconic look to match the universe that Tim Burton created, and the album was a huge success. Some of that has to do with cross-platform promotion and the movie itself being a hit, but still — that spirit of taking something frivolous and fully inhabiting it creatively says a lot about the kind of artist Prince was, I think.
  • Overheard at work yesterday: “There is nothing better than when Prince comes on the radio.”
  • My band does a cover of “Nothing Compares 2 U,” which was written by Prince. Somebody got a crappy iPhone recording of our version at practice one night, and I put it on Soundcloud a couple years back. It’s pretty harsh — watch out for a jarring, loud start — but it’s more in the vein of original arrangement than Sinéad O’Connor’s, so you might get a kick out it. I definitely do when we play it. Soloing during a Prince song feels incredible, like total freedom. Like you’ve been temporarily transported to another musical dimension where confidence is infinite and gravity doesn’t exist. I’d like to think that’s exactly where he is now.

Top 10 Albums of 2014

Parks and Rec

Fun fact: When you wait until December 31 to finish your top 10 albums of the year post, your top 10 albums of the year post becomes, by default, your New Year’s Eve post! Before getting to the list, I just want to thank everyone who takes the time to read this blog, whether it’s once a week, once a month, or just this once. It’s such a gift thinking/knowing/believing that there are people out there who share your enthusiasms, and to everyone who left comments, retweeted links, reblogged posts, did guest posts, invited me to do guests posts, or interacted with YHT in any other way, thank you for being such awesome Internet buds.

Now for the 10 albums that meant the most to me in 2014:

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Reckless Records

Reckless ouside

In August, I found out about this Buzzfeed list of “27 Breathtaking Record Stores You Have To Shop At Before You Die” from a tweet posted by the proprietor of one of my favorite music blogs, AnEarful. At that point, I’d been to two of them — Mississippi Records in Portland, OR and Grimey’s in Nashville — which, as I confessed at the time, made me feel like some sort of low-grade jet setter. Really, what it makes me is the kind of person who, when exploring a city for the first time, disappears for a few hours to feed a habit that’s already overfed back home. (Quick plug: I can think of a few Richmond shops that deserve to be on the sequel to that Buzzfeed list, if’n one’s ever assembled…)

I knew about Reckless Records before that list came out — I’ve gotten my brother-in-law a Reckless gift certificate or two in years past via the interweb — but reading about the store on that list gave me the nudge I needed to make seeing it firsthand a priority, and I got the opportunity to check out the Milwaukee Ave. location last weekend, when Mrs. YHT and I were in town for a wedding.

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