Bombino proves even in West Africa, rock rings true
There's no law that says the best guitarists in the world have to be born in the United States or Britain. In our connected, globalized, ever-shrinking world, they can come from anywhere.
There is a rule (sort of) that requires aspiring electric guitarists to put in some time listening to Jimi Hendrix, though.
Omara “Bombino” Moctar, leader of the West African “desert blues” band Bombino, grew up in a nomadic Tuareg encampment in Niger. That's about as off-the-grid as one can realistically get. Despite that, he still ended up where most American teenage guitarists do — Hendrix.
“When I was a child, I would hear traditional Tuareg music, traditional Hausa music, a lot of traditional African music,” Bombino says in an email interview, with the help of an interpreter. “When my family went to Algeria during the first rebellion, that is when I began listening to rock music. It was listening to the big rock stars like Jimi Hendrix and Santana and Dire Straits that I fell in love with rock music, and, more particularly, the guitar, and from that time I knew I wanted to be a musician.
“My music is a mix of traditional Tuareg music and rock music. To me, it is about 50 percent traditional, 50 percent rock. Many people call it ‘desert blues,' too.”
Bombino is part of a growing diaspora of musicians from the harsh, war-torn deserts of western Africa that have begun to get recognition from music fans worldwide. Since September, some of the region's top acts — including Mamadou Kelly, Leila Gobi, Sidi Toure and Terakaft — have performed in Pittsburgh as part of “The Sahara Series.” The last of the concerts, featuring Bombino, will be Nov. 27 at the Thunderbird Cafe, Lawrenceville.
Although constant travel might be in their blood, these musicians aren't always leaving their homelands by choice. In recent years, the nation of Mali has seen persistent drought, a Tuareg rebellion, an Islamist insurgency and an intervention by the French military.
“All of the problems of the Sahel (the semi-arid region from the Sahara Desert to the tropical Sudanian Savanna) are affecting everyone, musicians included,” Bombino says. “We are seeing violent episodes now in Niger that are the result of this violence in Mali. The Niger government did the right thing to support the French and the Malian governments, but now we are seeing the Islamists' anger directed at us as well.
“It is a terrible situation for everyone, and I pray every day that it gets better and we can return to peace and stability,” he says. “We need these things if we wish to address our issues of development. ... We need schools and hospitals and employment, but none of this can happen if there is not first peace and security.”
Now, many of the region's musicians live semi-nomadic existence on the road between the concert halls and rock clubs of the West.
Bombino's recent album “Nomad,” was produced by Grammy-winner Dan Auerbach, of Akron, Ohio's blues-rock giants The Black Keys. Auerbach wisely chose to mostly just let Bombino's sinuous, psychedelic guitar lines and timeless, hypnotic desert rhythms speak for themselves.
“He is a real genius and a great producer,” Bombino says. “He is equally a great guy. He was able to create a very relaxed environment, even though for us it was our first time in a real, professional recording studio, and we could not speak the same language as him, as well as other challenges. But Dan was very cool and knew how to create the right energy in the studio for the best music to come out.”
Michael Machosky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at email@example.com or 412-320-7901.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- PLS Trio seems like more voices on ‘East River’
- Pittsburgh Rock ’N Roll Legends Awards honors rock legends, locals
- Saxophonist Carter proves he’s up to any musical challenge
- Beaver Falls grad lands Ohio symphony post
- Ed Sheeran coming to Pittsburgh in May
- Pittsburgh producer revives, re-airs an expanded ‘Motown 25 ’
- PSO’s Honeck coaxes orchestral brilliance in ballet themes