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The mesmerising ’Ilana (The Creator)’ is desert blues maestro Mdou Moctar’s first album recorded in a proper studio and backed by a full band
Whirling at the heels of his live recordings made in Jack White’s Third Man complex, the Tuareg guitarist returns to his spiritual home of Sahel Sounds, flanked by Ahmoudou Madassane (Les Filles de Illighadad) on rhythm guitar, Aboubacar Mazawadje’s percussion, and Michael Coltun on bass, to present his magnum opus 10 some years since his debut album was distributed on SD cards across west Africa.
Mdou got to this point after his self-taught, fiery guitar skills were heard by Christopher Kirkley ov Sahel Sounds, who, after a few phone calls (Mdou dropped the first one, thinking it was a prank), secured Mdou’s ‘Tahoultine’ song for the now-seminal ‘Music From Saharan Cellphones’ compilation in 2010. A string of celebrated LPs have followed, including Mdou’s soundtrack for a Saharan remake of Prince’s ‘Purple Rain’, and now on ‘Ilana (The Creator)’ he finally shows what he can do in a true studio setting, and with bios own band.
The results are wider, more layered, and immersively lusher than anything else in Mdou’s oeuvre, yet they lose none of the in-the-moment “life” found in his rawer, earlier works, or indeed his transfixing live performances across the EU and USA.
Comprising long hours of jamming in the studio, with later overdubs made in Niger, ‘Ilana (The Creator)’ harnesses Mdou and his group’s mesmerising energy in 9 songs, coursing with the kind of psychedelic feel that begs eyes closed and heads-down from the magnetic swiller of ‘Kamane Tarhanin’ thru the wide open blues space connoted by ‘Inizgam’, to the elegant, swaying rhythms and lilting harmonies in ‘Anna’, and a scorching tribute to Tuareg folklore in ‘Ilana’, with incendiary music underlining lyrics about France’s exploitation of Niger’s uranium reserves.