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18 Nov

AKOUNAK: Nigerian Remake of ‘Purple Rain’

The Nigerian remake of “Purple Rain is cinematic magic
by Dangerous Minds | Photos: Jeremy Fino
“A revolutionary story of guitars, motorcycles, cell phones – and the music of a new generation” is how director Christopher Kirkley describes his West African re-imagining of Purple Rain. Set in the Saharan city of Agadez in Niger, Akounak Tedalat Taha Tazoughai (Akounak for short) is a visually sumptuous and musically thrilling movie that works splendidly with or without the Purple Rain mythos. But riffing on Prince’s tale locates Purple Rain’s universal heartbeat.

Like the lone, nameless gunslinger in a Sergio Leone western, the central character in Kirkley’s film, musician Mdou Moctar, travels through the desert with a guitar instead of a rifle or Colt 45. And instead of a horse, he rides a motorcycle… a purple one. The gunslinger analogy is apt because guitar players in Agadez and surrounding areas battle among themselves to gain status as the fastest gun in the west, with six strings replacing six bullets. It’s a rivalry that is rooted in a culture where young men still embrace old school notions of masculinity. The whole cowboy thing has been transposed to musicianship. If wars are to be fought then let the bullets be musical notes.

Moctar is a self-taught guitarist who plays in the Tuareg style of artists like Bombino and Tinariwen. Guitar-driven, rhythmic and often wildly psychedelic, Tuareg music taps into something deep within the listener’s body and soul. It resonates on a higher plane. Moctar’s playing has an almost alchemical effect. It puts me in a zone where magic happens. The fact that this magic is stored and shared on cell phones by West African music fans is a fascinating collision of cultures. In an area where personal computers and high speed internet are scarce to non-existent, cellphones have become the medium through which music is collected and broadcast. Fans swap files wirelessly via Bluetooth. High tech crate digging in a desert as old as time.

Akounak Tedalat Taha Tazoughai translates into English as “Rain the Color of Blue With a Little Red in It,” which is a poetic mouthful. For its theatrical release it’s simply titled Akounak. The combination of Moctar’s live performances, the otherworldly beauty of the Sahara, Jeremy Fino’s luminous cinematography and Kirkley’s intimate and supple style of direction make Anounak one of those rare fictional films about music that has the pulse of real life and the resonance of great art. Akounak is the creation of visionaries who are attempting to—in the lyrics of the song “Purple Rain”—“reach out for something new.” In my view, they’ve succeeded. I never seen a movie like Akounak. It’s a revelation.

For more information about Akounak and to purchase the movie’s soundtrack, among many other fabulous West African recordings, visit Sahel Sounds. The site also has Mdou Moctar’s current touring schedule.

The full release is August 2017, coinciding with Mdou’s first USA tour – stay tuned for tour dates coming soon. Director Christopher Kirkley generously allowed Dangerous Minds to share this clip from Akounak. Also, here’s a teaser for Mdou Moctar’s upcoming album “Sousoume Tamachek.” The album was recorded in Portland, Oregon, and we brought in a range of local talent in the recording, working with Jason Powers from Type Foundry and Jesse Johnson at Boomarm Nation. But the album itself is just Mdou, playing all the instruments, backup vocals, rhythm guitar, and percussion.

 

 

 

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