Mdou Moctar plays a scorching set at a sold out Ardmore Music Hall - WXPN | Vinyl At Heart
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Mdou Moctar was greeted by a sold out crowd Wednesday night at Ardmore Music Hall, with fans packing the pit and hanging off the balcony to experience the band’s heady psychedelic tuareg rock. Moctar’s music is commonly referred to as tishoumaren, tuareg rock, or simply the desert blues, but regardless of their sonic classification, the Niger-rooted band knows what it means to rock and roll.

The night opened with a solo acoustic performance from singer-songwriter Meg Baird. The Heron Oblivion frontwoman sang unexpectedly quiet and somber numbers, gently picking her acoustic guitar and glancing every now and then at the dimly lit music stand by her side, as if she was reading by candlelight in a quaint English cottage. Her music would perfectly accompany such scenery, as Baird is deeply entwined in Celtic and Anglo folk traditions, even pointing out during the closing song that it would be right at home in a tavern many…many centuries ago. The audience was slow to embrace the understated vibe of Baird’s set, murmuring about the genre clash of English folk tunes with Moctar’s sweltering grooves, however, by the end of her performance Baird had won over the hearts of the audience, swaying and gazing at the singer as she channeled her best Joni Mitchell before welcoming Mdou Moctar to Ardmore.

The moment Mdou stepped on stage, the hall was transformed into an oasis of sound, with lead singer and guitarist Mahamadou “Mdou Moctar” Souleyman lightly scattering notes around the room before exploding into the fast-paced desert rocker “Chismiten.” Set against a wall of amps, warm orange lighting, and dressed in traditional head wraps and robes, the band looked as though they had just completed the long trek through the Sahara to arrive at Ardmore’s stage, with the music providing the soundtrack to their journey.

Much of their set focused on songs from the band’s 2021 album Afrique Victime and 2019’s Ilana (The Creator), including performances of “Takamba” and “Tarhatazed.” Both records experimented with complimentary fusions of their exotic instrumentals and classic rock riffs, flowing between explosively hot jams while anchored by Souleyman’s mind-altering solos and expressive vocals. Unbound by a single genre definition, the group combines the guitar pyrotechnics of Eddie Van Halen and psychedelic wizardry of Jimi Hendrix with the Saharan rhythms and stories of their homeland. Souleyman professes stories of love, religion, and West Africa’s pained history of colonial exploitation all in his native language of Tamasheq, so while even attentive listeners may struggle to understand the lyrics, they need only to feel the honesty and intent behind the music to connect with the band’s message of worldwide peace and love.

After a scorching hour-long-set (which felt more like ten minutes the way the band transitioned between songs) Mdou Moctar graciously clasped their hands in thanks and left the stage. The crowd erupted with applause, begging Mdou to continue for just one more song, and they happily complied with a final roaring encore. After the show, the band reciprocated the crowd’s love, sticking around to take pictures with fans and sign merch, bringing an amazing night to a loving end at Ardmore.

If you missed Mdou Moctar on Wednesday, the band is still on tour, and returns to the east coast on July 28 for a performance at the Newport Folk Festival as well as a show at the Central Park Summerstage in NYC on July 29.

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