Mdou Moctar 2024
Photo: Ebru Yildiz / Matador Records

Mdou Moctar Holds Nothing Back on Extraordinary ‘Funeral for Justice’

Even by Mdou Moctar’s high standards, Funeral for Justice is extraordinary. Its music and lyrics are searing, and the messages are essential in 2024.

Funeral for Justice
Mdou Moctar
3 May 2024

Prodigious guitar skills have always been at the core of Nigerien artist Mdou Moctar‘s outrageously dextrous rock music, a blazing take on the Saharan tishoumaren style associated with artists like Tinariwen and Bombino. On Funeral for Justice, Moctar and his band make music notable both for what it demonstrates of his creative palette and for its unyielding anti-colonial politics. These aspects are wholly inextricable as they drive Moctar and his group forward in making perhaps the most vital and certainly the most energetic work of their career so far. For an artist as brilliant as Moctar, that’s really saying something.

At the head of the group, of course, is Moctar, taking lead vocals and guitar. While his nimble playing has always been a joy to experience, he reaches new heights with each explosive solo on Funeral for Justice. The record opens with its title track, and Moctar wastes no time in shredding and spiraling forward. Spirited drumming from Souleymane Ibrahim matches Moctar’s speed and power without any trouble, while Ahmoudou Madassane and Mikey Coltun anchor the piece on rhythm guitar and bass, respectively; Coltun also produces. This is no dirge, no elegy; this “Funeral for Justice” is a celebration of life and a vow not to let what is right and those who have stood for it be forgotten. 

In “Imouhar”, a plea for the survival of the Tamasheq languages against the dominance of French, Moctar’s voice rings out strong (occasionally through the prism of the electronic processing so common in his early works) as his guitar wails, truly wails, against hegemony. Feedback and squealing strings drive an electric current through brisk “Sousoume Tamacheq”. Later, “Oh France” brings in the sounds of gale-force winds and strategic electronics to scaffold climactic lines from the band, a sonic revolution in a single track. It’s volume not just for volume’s sake but to make Moctar’s messages impossible to ignore.

There is nuance to it. Moctar works in softer registers on tracks like “Takoba”, “Imajighen”, and “Modern Slaves”, never sacrificing complexity or edge while extending Funeral for Justice’s dynamic range. In “Tchinta”, he calls out into open space in unison with cymbals and guitars, a melancholy start leading to high-octane rhythms. Mdou Moctar and band navigate all these different levels with equal finesse, each road serving the ensemble’s ultimate goal of making statement after statement about the urgent need for self-determination in the world, particularly amid the colonial legacies that still permeate social relations around the globe.

Even by Mdou Moctar’s high standards, Funeral for Justice is extraordinary. It is searing in music and lyrics, with messages that are essential in a world on fire and whose sounds can carry those messages far and wide. More than any previous Mdou Moctar album, it feels alive: Moctar and his whole band are in the room with their listeners, fanning the flames of righteous resolve and reminding us that if justice is dead, there’s no more fitting tribute to it than raising our voices on its behalf.

RATING 10 / 10