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Mdou Moctar Talks Building His Own Guitar, Niger, and Love Songs on ‘The First Time’

Mdou Moctar, the psychedelic Tuareg guitarist from Niger, wrote his first song in a harrowing competition to see which friend loved their girlfriend more.

It was 2003, he was a student, and his friend had just written a love song.

“The song is on top in that time, and everyone liked that song,” says Moctar. “[My girlfriend] said, ‘you are free and together, but he loves his girlfriend, he writes them the song. That’s nice.’ And I understand the message that she means. I said, ‘I never write a song. But I’m going to write one better than this. You will love it.”

The song, which would later be recorded for his second release for Sahel Sounds, Anar, was called “Ibitlan.” Moctar says his girlfriend cried when she first heard it.

“Everyone loved the song,” says Mdou. “And then, I win.”

That songwriting spark, which this year culminated into the incredible album Afrique Victime on Matador Records, also wouldn’t have been possible if Moctar didn’t learn how to play the guitar on an instrument crafted with his own two hands.

“We doesn’t have the store to buy the guitar, and then no one supports me in my family to be artist,” explains Moctar, who also says his family overcame their initial hesitancy after seeing his success as an musician. “And then I build my own guitar, by myself. With some wood. I make it in my style. The string, I do it with the brake for bicycle.”

But for Moctar, it doesn’t stop at the music. He has been working with local villages in Niger to build wells, as a way to give back whenever he puts out a new album.

“It’s what I’m doing. When I said, I want to give the smile for everyone,” says Moctar. “I was in one village. I see the people need water. And then I build them two wells. You can image when I see the child drink the water, and then joking with the water, it was very happy. The smile that that made me, I cried for a while for that, and then I was very happy for doing that. Because water is life.”

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