The Tuareg sound has received a bit of airplay over the last few years, with sounds from deep inside the Sahara getting exposure almost as a follow-up to the coastal sounds popularized by players like Ali Farka Toure. Among the newest stars is Bombino, a Tuareg guitarist who honed his craft largely while living in Algeria before returning to Niger (specifically to Agadez, as the title suggests) with his bluesy but surprisingly clean sound. Where other desert players tend to delight in feedback and fuzz, Bombino’s chords are meaty, powerful, but always clean and precise. With a band in tow, he’ll set up a slinky backing groove before alternately crooning and chanting (again, similar to influences like Toure), and twisting Santana-like solos out of his instrument. The music can be hypnotic in its relaxation and repetition of grooves, and in its sudden bursts of overpowering technique. Regardless of the specific song or the specific technique in use though, Bombino remains a powerful and interesting player, taking the next step past the well-regarded West African guitar sound into a slightly edgier territory, both geographically and musically…..by Adam Greenberg……
Omara “Bombino” Moctar, a young Tuareg guitarist and songwriter, was raised during an era of armed struggles for independence and violent suppression by government forces. His electrifying jams capture the spirit of resistance and rebellion while echoing with guitar riffs reminiscent of fellow Africans Tinariwen and Ali Farka Touré not to mention rock and blues icons such as Jimi Hendrix, John Lee Hooker and Jimmy Page. Already a superstar in the Tuareg community, with the release of Agadez on Cumbancha Discovery Bombino’s stature as one of Africa’s hottest young guitarists is revealed to the world.
“Contains some of the most sublime guitar licks you’ll hear in 2011. The songs on Agadez combine the best traits of Saturday nights and Sunday mornings, mixing killer solos with delicate repetition. The most magical moments come when Bombino finishes a verse – all sung in the Tuareg language of Tamasheq – and begins to lose himself in his guitar. You can’t help but follow him down.” - National Public Radio
“This is an early entry for World album of the year and quite possibly in the running for Album of the Year as well.” - Music-News
“Bombino is a young Tuareg singer and a guitar wizard whose riffs echo Jimi Hendrix and John Lee Hooker.” - KCRW Radio
“An excellent album and an early contender for one of the year’s best.” - Roots World
“A passionate voice, a guitar that sings and the ability to communicate through sound alone will bring tears to your eye and send a shiver running up and down your spine… [the album] will take your breath away.” - Blogcritics
“Omara Mochtar knows how to shred. Mochtar’s playing positively slays.” - Pitchfork………
Omara “Bombino” Moctar, whose given name is Goumar Almoctar, was born on January 1st, 1980 in Tidene, Niger, an encampment of nomadic Tuaregs located about 80 kilometers to the northeast of Agadez. He is a member of the Ifoghas tribe, which belongs to the Kel Air Tuareg federation. His father is a car mechanic and his mother takes care of the home, as is the Tuareg tradition. Bombino was raised as a Muslim and taught to consider honor, dignity and generosity as principal tenets of life.
The Tuareg, known amongst themselves as the Kel Tamasheq, have long been recognized as warriors, traders and travelers of the Sahara Desert - as a people of grace and nobility as well as fighters of fierce reputation. They are a nomadic people descended from the Berbers of North Africa and for centuries have fought against colonialism and the imposition of strict Islamic rule.
Bombino spent his early childhood between the encampment and the town of Agadez, the largest city in northern Niger (population about 90,000) and long a key part of the ancient Sahara trade routes connecting North Africa and the Mediterranean with West Africa. One of seventeen brothers and sisters (including half brothers and half sisters from both his mother and father), Bombino was enrolled in school in Agadez, but he demonstrated his rebellious spirit early on and refused to go. Bombino’s grandmother took him in to keep his father from forcing him to go to school, and, like most Tuareg children, he grew up living with his grandmother.
Eventually, Bombino gave in and began attending a French-Arabic school that taught both French and classic Arabic. After three years, he left the school and at the age of nine he returned to his grandmother to live the life of an independent Tuareg child. The Tuareg culture is matriarchic, and the elder women are considered the chiefs of the community, the wise sages that represent the power of life, generosity and knowledge. Bombino’s grandmother instilled in him the Tuareg moral code in order for him to grow up as a respected member of society. Young Tuareg boys are called “arawan n tchimgharen”, or “grandmother’s children”, a term that is considered a badge of honor.
In 1984, a drought hit Niger and Mali, killing most of the region’s livestock, forcing people to leave the countryside and move into the cities or migrate to Algeria and Libya. Eventually, Tuareg communities in those countries organized a rebellion to defend their rights, as they felt overlooked and underrepresented by local governments. Before the fighting began, rebels began teaching the community about the goals of the rebellion through song and the recently adopted guitar. Musicians such as Intayaden, Abreyboun of Tinariwen, Keddo, Abdallah of Niger and others sang popular songs that proclaimed the rights and heritage of the Tuaregs. The style was called “ishoumar” which derives from the French word “chomeurs” or “unemployed”, because Tuaregs had lost their herds in the drought and were left with no other means of supporting themselves. Eventually, the term “ishoumar” became synonymous with “rebels”.
In 1990, the first Tuareg rebellion began in Mali and Niger when Tuareg commandos launched an attack against local military and government offices. The governments fought back, declaring Tuaregs enemies of the state and forcing many Tuareg’s into exile.
Bombino fled with his father and grandmother to stay near relatives in Algeria. One day some relatives arrived from the front lines of the rebellion, carrying with them two guitars that they left behind for a few months. Bombino began to teach himself to play the guitars, plucking out notes in imitation of the ishoumar songs he had heard.
In 1992 and 1993, the military regime in Niger was replaced with a democratically elected government, and numerous political parties were formed, largely along ethnic lines. A Tuareg party was formed, and music once again played an important role in educating the community, this time about the importance of a democratic system in Niger. While the armed conflict had not formally ended, Bombino and his family decided to move back to Agadez.
During a trip to Niamey, Niger for medical treatment, Bombino met with his uncle Rissa Ixa, a famous Tuareg painter, who gave him a guitar. Upon returning to Agadez, Bombino joined the Tuareg political party where he met the best guitarist of the party, a man named Haja Bebe. He started getting lessons, improving to the point where Haja Bebe invited him to join his band. It was during this time that Bombino acquired his nickname. As the youngest and smallest member of the band, the other members called him Bombino, a variation on the Italian word for “little child”.
On April 24th, 1995, the Niger government signed a peace treaty with the rebels and Tuaregs were able to move back to Niger. Around the same time, Bombino got a role as an extra in the French film Imuhar: A Legend, which was filmed in the nearby desert. After finishing his work on the film, Bombino settled into life as working musician, performing at political rallies, weddings, and other ceremonies.
He fought often with his father, who did not want his son to become a musician. To escape this problem, Bombino decided to travel to Algeria and Libya in 1996. In Libya, he made friends with some local musicians, and they would spend time watching videos of Jimi Hendrix, Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits and others in an effort to master their licks. Bombino was quickly becoming an accomplished guitarist and was in high demand as a backing musician. While working as a herder in the desert near Tripoli, Libya, Bombino spent many hours alone watching the animals and practicing his guitar.
Eventually, Bombino decided to return to Niger, where he continued to play with a number of local bands. As his legend grew, a Spanish documentary film crew helped Bombino record his first album, which become a local hit on Agadez radio. The success of the album validated Bombino’s choice to make a career out of music, and he began playing regularly for tourists and locals alike.
In 2006, Bombino traveled to California with the band Tidawt for a tour organized by a non-profit organization. During the trip, he had the chance to record a desert blues version of the Rolling Stones classic “Hey Negrita” alongside Stones’ members Keith Richards and Charlie Watts. The track appears on the 2008 album spearheaded by Rolling Stones saxophonist Tim Riese entitled Stone’s World: The Rolling Stones Project Volume 2. Later that year, Bombino served as Angelina Jolie’s guide to the Niger desert region during a weeklong visit. During their time together, he played her the music of the Tuareg and told her stories of nomadic life in the Sahara.
In 2007, the second Tuareg rebellion began, and the government countermeasures were forceful and indiscriminant. Many civilians were killed and farms and livestock were destroyed in an effort to quash the rebellion. Instead, the government’s hard-handed tactics only served to galvanize the Tuareg community, and Bombino and his friends joined the rebellion. Government forces killed two of Bombino’s musicians, so he fled in exile to Burkina Faso along with many of his fellow Tuaregs.
In 2009, he met filmmaker Ron Wyman who had heard a cassette of Bombino’s music while traveling near Agadez. Wyman was enchanted by Bombino’s music and spent a year seeking him out, eventually tracking him down to Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, where Bombino was living in exile. While there, Wyman decided to feature Bombino in a documentary he was filming about the Tuareg. Later that year, he brought Bombino to Cambridge, Massachusetts to begin recording the album Agadez in his home studio.
Finally, the Tuaregs put down their arms and were allowed to return to Niger. In January 2010, Wyman came to Agadez to finish the album and the film. The sultan of Agadez allowed them to organize a concert for peace at the base of the Grand Mosque, the first time such a performance had been permitted. Over a thousand people came to celebrate the end of the conflict and danced to the irresistible grooves of Bombino and his band.
Although just thirty years old, Bombino’s life and travels have exposed him to the problems facing his people. He has taken on the mission of helping the Tuareg community achieve equal rights, peace, maintain their rich cultural heritage and promote education. He is an advocate for teaching children the Tuareg language of Tamasheq, the local Haoussa language as well as French and Arabic, all of which he speaks fluently. “We fought for our rights,” remarks Bombino, “But we have seen that guns are not the solution. We need to change our system. Our children must go to school and learn about their Tuareg identity.”
Four thousand years of living in a hostile environment taught the Tuareg that the will to survive with dignity intact is stronger than any external threat. Bombino puts that sentiment to music, writes its anthem, and gives it a life of its own. He is known as being emblematic of the next generation of Tuareg, a new voice of the Sahara and Sahel, fusing traditional Berber rhythms with the energy of rock and roll and songs about peace. After thirty years of drought, rebellion, and tyranny, Bombino extols his audience to remember who they are, but also realize who they can be……………..
Since the dawning of the new millennium, after Tinariwen grabbed the attention of the international world music cognoscenti, the Tuareg version of ‘desert blues’ has been on the rise. Due to the placement of Tinariwen and various spin-off groups, most associate the style with Malian music; but as the Tuareg, or Kel Tamasheq to use their own self-designation, are a stateless, nomadic people whose domain stretches across the borders of many North African lands, it is more fitting to think of them as beings of the Sahara, and their music and culture is intricately linked with its solitary sands. Throughout this vast region, the man born Goumar Almoctar, known to his friends as Omara Moctar and to fans as Bombino, has gained a steady following on the music scene since the late 1990s. But even if our knowledge of him reaches us belatedly, the album Agadez is ample proof of his talent. This quietly mesmerising collection holds hidden power beneath its deceptive simplicity, with many a tune devolving into blistering guitar jams, following chanted vocals about the struggle for unity and self-determination, as well as the longing that love brings, and the difficulties facing a life of shepherd’s solitude. Bombino started his life in Niger, growing between the densely populated northern town of Agadez and a desert camp near Tidene. During the first Tamasheq rebellion in 1990, he and his family fled to Algeria; later, while on a return visit to Niger, he was given a guitar by his uncle, and was soon in a band with leading revolutionary musician, Haja Bebe. He later had a cameo in a feature film and after cutting a debut album, funded by a Spanish film crew, and found his way to California to appear on the second Rolling Stones Project album. But then the second rebellion happened, forcing Bombino into exile in Burkina Faso for a couple of years, until the deposing of Niger’s dreaded dictator brought the ceasefire that allowed Bombino to re-direct his music towards the cause of unity, and the engagement of the Tuareg in democratic processes. And all of this is bubbling under the surface of Agadez, which was cut between Massachusetts and Niger, while his superb performance at WOMAD 2011 also showed him to be a fine performer capable of channelling a range of emotions through his axe….BBC music review…………..
Credits Arranged By – Goumour Almoctar* Bass Guitar – Ed Lucie Drums – Ibrahim Emoud Atchinguil* Graphics [Graphic Design] – Tim O'Malley (2) Guitar – Kawissan Mohamed Liner Notes – Ron Wyman Management – Eric Herman, Modiba Productions Mastered By – Chris Decato, Lane Gibson Mixed By – Chris Decato Percussion – Chris Decato, Joe Galeato, Mohamed Serge, Ron Wyman Photography By – Ron Wyman Producer – Ron Wyman Rhythm Guitar – Chris Decato* Shekere [Calabash] – Ghissa Tshoda (Lalo) Vocals, Lead Guitar – Omara “Bombino” Moctar Written-By – Goumour Almoctar* (tracks: 2 to 5, 7 to 9), Traditional (tracks: 1, 6, 10)
Tracklist Ahoulaguine Akaline (I Greet My Country) 4:03 Tar Hani (My Love) 6:30 Adounia (Live) 5:05 Kammou Taliat (You My Beloved) 4:30 Tigrawahi Tikma (Bring Us Together) 5:17 Tenere (The Desert, My Home) 3:32 Iyat Idounia Ayasahen (Another Live) 9:08 Azamane (My Brothers United) 4:32 Assalam Felawan (Peace To You) 6:16 Tebsakh Dalet (A Green Acacia) 5:09