How Mdu Moktar’s music went viral via Bluetooth

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Depending on where you are in the world, life after the death of physical music looks very different. In West Africa, the post-CD landscape was filled with market stalls selling SIM cards and micro-SD cards with preloaded tracks. Eventually friends started sharing songs directly via bluetooth, phone to phone. After WhatsApp started to spread in the 2010s, you didn’t need to be in physical proximity to send punches to your friends. However, it wasn’t links that were circulated, but highly compressed MP3s that had a better chance of reaching their destination. To this day, music sharing depends on what’s realistic with the region’s relatively weak internet.

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These music channels made Mdou Moktara famous. Schroeder from Niger who plays assouf or Tuareg guitar music, he can be called a crossover star: his 2021 album. African victim was released on the indie rock heavyweight label Matador and introduced it to an audience completely unfamiliar with the history of its genre. However, in Niger he is better known as the superstar of the Bluetooth scene.

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Moctar recalls the first time he heard his own music playing on a mobile phone. “I was in Agadez [in the center of Niger]and I wanted to go to Niamey [a thousand kilometers west] visit a friend,” Moctar says. “And then on the bus, I listen. Many people have a phone and everyone listens to my music. And then the driver, he also turned on my music. It was the first time I realized that my music was getting popular around me.” Everything happened without his participation, out of his control. “I never do anything to encourage people to listen to my music like this,” he says, “because I don’t know anything about it. I’m not in any company because of the music.”

Moktar’s bassist Mikey Koltun is the only non-Nigerian member of his band. Born and raised in Washington, DC, Coltan has been playing West African music since he was a teenager, when his musician father began collaborating with Cheik Hamala Diabate, a griot from Mali, and young Mikey joined the band. Koltan continued to perform throughout West Africa and became familiar with the region’s local scenes.

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When Koltun first heard Mdou Moktar’s 2013 album, AphelanHe immediately knew that he wanted to work with him. “I played a lot of West African music, it’s very pure. A lot of the older generation don’t really want to experiment.” Compared to what it used to be, Mdou was punk rock. When Koltun worked as a tour manager, driver, salesman and bass player, Mdou Moktar began touring the states. Koltun now also produces the band’s albums. Moktar would later tell an admiring Koltun stories about his early days, about hearing his music play on mobile phone speakers on buses. “He can’t say, ‘It’s me!'” says Koltun. “No one will believe him. Nobody knows what these [musicians] looks like!”

When they first toured the US together, Coltan and Moctar quickly realized that they wanted to avoid the traditional “music of the world” approach. “The seated crowd. Very divided. Very white,” concludes Koltun. “The money was good, but I was very sick.” The group moved on to do-it-yourself shows where stages were low or non-existent and where fans could crowd around the group “what do you do in the desert and at weddings”. [in Niger]. It was much more natural. You could see the energy coming out,” adds Koltun. “I think it really pissed me off [Moctar] outside, this sedentary environment, as opposed to people who get up and dance and go crazy.”

In April, Matador released a full-length African victim remix album, Africa Refee. When the idea for a remix album first came up, the band quickly began collaborating with underground African musicians such as Egyptian noise artist Aya Metwalli and Kenyan grindcore duo Douma.

Nyege Nyege Tapes, a label based in Kampala, Uganda, in East Africa, ended up helping the band find many of the remixers that made it onto the record. “Whether it’s socially or politically, it’s a bit more extreme stuff, and that’s the roots of Mdou Moktar,” says Koltun. “He drives shit.” The remixers were sent the basics of the songs and told that they could “screw it up”. Whatever is included is what you hear on the remix album. Koltun says the band “didn’t have records for anyone”.

Both African victim as well as Africa Refee, like all of Mdou Moktar’s music, are widely available on all major digital music services. Outside of West Africa, the Bluetooth days have become part of the band’s legends. Before supply chain issues spoiled the rollout, Matador planned a special edition African victim which came to a pre-loaded Nokia mobile phone.

But back in Niger, it is still important for Moctar to spread his music from hand to hand. “When I play for people at home,” he says, “just for the people around me or for friends, I play my new song to them and ask, ‘What do you think of this?’ And then some of them record music, and I don’t know that. They just write it down on their phone and I don’t know. In two days you will see this new song – everyone has it.


Credit: www.wired.com /

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