Omar "Bombino" Moctar is a Tuareg nomad from Agadez, Niger, and while his music is rooted in the deepest traditions of desert life, Bombino is also deeply indebted to the likes of Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton -- maybe even Jerry Garcia.
I went to the Musical Instrument Museum to see a this songwriter and immerse myself in his melodic, polyrhythm playing style I have come to know from other Tuareg musicians that is as deeply moving as it is hypnotic. A rock concert broke out instead. Not that I'm complaining -- and not that it wasn't entirely unexpected given that the Black Keys' Dan Auerbach played on and produced Bombino's current release, Nomad.
The show opened with an acoustic set that was indeed rhythmic, moving, passionate and sublime. Bombino's subtleties with his strumming hand -- a strange mixture of plucking, picking and slapping -- made it seem as if several guitarists were on stage at once, creating a dense layer of overlapping rhythms and textures supplemented by electric bass, djembe and calabash percussions. It was easy to close the eyes to feel the warm desert wind and relish in the slower rhythm of life that takes place in the Sahara, only to find that energy gradually build from light to dark, increasing in intensity as each song ended with a final flourish -- like the end of a chase.
In many ways this music functions like jazz -- separate the layers each player brings to the mix and no one seems to be operating on the same page. Each man has his own agenda. Yet, like jazz, it all comes together miraculously overall.
Bombino's acoustic set dug into the soul as he sang about his troubled homeland the persecution of his people, the tension ebbing and flowing. Then things got really wild.
The geopolitical nature of Bombino's songs didn't change, only the delivery did as a full drum kit replaced djembe and the calabash gave way to a second electric guitar and occasional harmonica solo. Bombino's eclectic playing style was even more dramatic on the electric as he shredded up and down the fretboard faster than a thrash metal guitarist on fire, adding a delightful layer of fuzz over an ever-thundering bass. Yet, despite the speed, the melodies remained strong, wistful and emotional, capturing the heart and soul the weaving, swaying and dancing Bombino put into each song.
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It was easy to see why Auerbach would be attracted to Bombino, and why the fit was a natural. Both men are blues players, but neither follows the completely traditional lines, opting instead to rely on feeling. There was plenty of that on this night -- even the lone stage dancer seemed to be carried away in the moment.
For Bombino, his 90-minute show left little doubt where his heart lays. It's in his homeland and in his music, which thankfully he's willing to share with the world.
Last Night: Bombino
Personal Bias: Always a big fan of grooving, hypnotic "desert blues" from West Africa.
Overheard: In the hall on the way outside: "I didn't expect it to get so loud in there -- but I liked the way it sounded."
Audience: Wide-ranging demographic that surprisingly covered all the bases.
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Random Notebook Dump: "Dan Auerbach and Bombino -- in making Nomad they couldn't speak the same language, but the language of music was more than enough." Find any show in Metro Phoenix via our extensive online concert calendar.