Tuesday, April 2, 2013

REVIEW: Bombino - Nomad

Taureg singer/guitarist Omara "Bombino" Moctar has released his third album: Nomad. The cover art - a wildman screeching away on his motorcycle, long scarf trailing in the breeze - gives some sense of the full-throttle proceedings inside the record. It's a session in which superstar producer and world-class rock guitarist Dan Auerbach (at whose Easy Eye studios the album was recorded) plays the role of facilitator and enabler. It appears that Auerbach only plays on one song, the joyous "Niamey Jam", but he clearly gives Bombino room, encouragement and the space to spread out and take these songs wherever they lead.

Moctar was nicknamed "Bombino" by one of the approving musical elders who helped guide him on his improbable journey from refugee to shepherd to Auerbach's Nashville studio. Tradition and heritage being very important to Bombino, you will hear echoes of other Taureg music and even song titles. But he's also a man of the 21st century, and after all his travels and travails, a fairly cosmopolitan citizen of this very small YouTube world we live in, so the album resounds with echoes of European and American guitar heroes like Mark Knopfler, Jimi Hendrix and Richard Thompson. Knopfler and Hendrix are mentioned specifically as influences, artists whom Bombino was exposed to by friends playing him videos. I would be surprised if he wasn't also exposed to Thompson, but even if not, I find a lot of similarities between their sounds - in a most enjoyable way.

Here's a video about the origins of the album and the relationship between Bombino and Auerbach:

And here's a short summary of his amazing journey, from the information on the Nonesuch website which accompanied this release: Before 2009, Bombino was little known outside Saharan Africa, where his career consisted of regionally available cassettes and roles in local bands. Born and raised in Niger, in and around the northern city of Agadez, Bombino is a member of the Tuareg Ifoghas tribe, a nomadic people descended from the Berbers of North Africa. 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." 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.

I love the joyous abandon of "Niamey Jam", which features Auerbach on bass and everybody in the studio on something (including bassist/percussionist Kildjate Moussa Albade on cowbell!). I am also charmed by the sad, slow cowboy sounds of "Imidiwan" - the way it's played and arranged may be a confirmation of the universality of the experiences of cowboys, shepherds, desert dwellers everywhere. "Zigzan" has an Oriental feel to it, but the predominant tenor of the album is joy. Pure, unadulterated joy. Check out the video above, of the guys in the studio. And check out this live video of an encore at a show in Nashville, captured by John Brassil:

Nomad is a tremendous record - sure to be treasured by world music fans and anyone with an appreciation for blues-based guitar rock. Bombino's enthusiasm and talent are pretty much irresistible. You can learn more, listen to songs and order the record at the Nonesuch website

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