Here are some shots I was fortunate to take at Bombino’s recent show in Boulder. It was a high energy performance of North African guitar shredding and transcendent psychedelic desert grooves. Bombino is a rising star who deserves attention.
Tuareg guitarist and singer Omara “Bombino” Moctar is a reletively new guiar hero out of North Africa. Born and raised in Niger, in the northern city of Agadez, Bombino is a member of the Tuareg Ifoghas tribe, a nomadic people descended from the Berbers of North Africa; for centuries they have fought against colonialism and the imposition of strict Islamic rule.
During his lifetime, the Tuareg people have fought the Niger government to secure their rights on numerous occasions, causing Bombino and his family to flee several times. During one such exile, relatives visiting from the front lines of the rebellion left behind a guitar and Bombino began teaching himself to play it. He eventually studied with the renowned Tuareg guitarist Haja Bebe, who asked him to join his band, where he acquired the nickname Bombino—a variation on the Italian word for “little child.”
While living in Algeria and Libya in his teen years, Bombino’s friends played him videos of Jimi Hendrix and Mark Knopfler, among others, which they watched over and over in an effort to master their licks. Bombino worked regularly as a musician and also as a herder in the desert near Tripoli, spending many hours alone watching the animals and practicing his guitar. Eventually, Bombino returned 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, Group Bombino’s Guitars from Agadez Vol. 2, which became a local radio hit.
In 2009, Bombino 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 he was in exile after two band members were killed in a rebellion. (The Tuaregs have since put down their arms and returned to Niger.) At the end of the war, Bombino returned to Agadez with Wyman and staged a concert to celebrate the newfound peace that established Bombino as a hero of the Tuareg people.