Album Review By Eric Sandberg
In 2019, the era of fourteen writers and producers on one song, there is no better sound to hear on a record than the buzzing of a single coil guitar pickup fed through an analog spring reverb — a sound that signals what you are about to hear could just be perfect in its imperfection.
In order to achieve such perfect imperfection it seems one must travel to the northern Sahara and Niger to seek out Mdou Moctar a Taureg (not the Volkswagen) musician who is the first to play traditional Berber music with an electric guitar — a lefty Fender Stratocaster, no less. Moctar was raised in a strict religious family where music was not permitted. He made his first guitar out of a plank with wire and nails.
After years of practicing in secret Moctar earned his living playing at weddings. He was discovered by the western world via cell phone recordings of his performances collected by tourists. Eventually some genius went out of his way to deliver an electric guitar to the musician and the results are, frankly, stunning.
Ilana (The Creator) is Mdou Moctar's first album recorded with a full band, including a rhythm guitarist, bass and drums. The band sounds like they have been playing together for decades — a desert Grateful Dead but infinitely more intense. I have always been fascinated by the music of the Middle East and North Africa, particularly Morocco, but Moctar uses the traditional Berber music as a launch pad for some of the trippiest psychedelic guitar excursions and non-traditional fleet-fingered soloing ever committed to tape.
Each track on this nearly perfect album takes you on a different journey through an unfamiliar world. It is mesmerizing and it reveals more of itself with each listen — and you will be compelled to listen, again and again. The centerpiece of the album is the epic seven and a half minute "Tarhatazed" [I can find no translation]. This song has it all: a massive groove, a great riff and an extended guitar solo that would make Eddie Van Halen weep.
This song is followed by the upbeat and hopeful sounding [I have no idea what he's singing about] "Wiwasharnine" which can be seen and heard below as Moctar performed the song live on KEXP. The live performance confirms his assertion that he is not familiar with the techniques of western rock guitarists and developed his chops on his own. His finger positioning on his fretting and picking hands is unlike any traditional rock guitarist.
"Wiwasharnine" live on KEXP
I cannot recommend this album strongly enough. It's not just a record, it's an evolving experience.
Eric Sandberg: My true opinion on everything is that it's splunge.