Nigerian guitarist Omara "Bombino" Moctar is in fact, what many musicians wish to portray--a musical nomad. Born in northern Niger, he is the descendant of Tuareg nomads who have roamed the deserts of North Africa for centuries, and has spent much of his life moving from place to place as the Tuareg engaged in a long struggle against the Nigerian government. Inspired by the music of his youth, as well as videos of Jimi Hendrix and Marc Knopfler, Bombino perfected his guitar playing while working as a herder outside of Tripoli, Libya. A highly revered virtuoso in Tuareg Dessert Rock circles, Bombino's reputation as an innovative, charismatic figure has been growing since 2009. His latest record Bombino's Nomad, recorded in Nashville with production by Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys, is a collection of soundscapes that are simultaneously otherworldly and familiar.
The track "Ahulakamine Hulan (He Greats You Fondly)" is a great introduction for those unfamiliar with the desert rock sound--the calabash pounds out a galloping six beat rhythm while the guitar spins spiraling lines reminiscent of the serpentine patterns of windblown sand. The lyrics, sung in Taureg, reflect a knowing sort of hospitality, "Remember the days and the moments that we spend together. I greet love. I greet doubt."
Hatched from the harshest of environments, Bombino's music has an elemental, almost primal feel. This is what makes the paring with Auerbach (known for his stripped-down, go for the gut approach) so ideal. "Amidinine (My Friend)" reflects this trans-Atlantic connection, with Bombino's opening shards of sound, eventually finding their place in Auerbach's rolling shuffle. It's as if a caravan stumbled into 2120 Michigan Avenue.
While sung in a language few people speak, the songs on Nomad will definitely connect with a broad spectrum of listeners. They are sparse (often with only four or five lines per song) and frame the specific struggles of the artist's life in the broadest terms. For example, on the track "Zigzan (Patience) Bombino observes, "You go through life and it never ceases to question you".
But the highlight of the record is Bombino's playing. While obviously influenced by American and British strat-kings, his guitar sounds altogether different. His finger aggressively plucks every fifth or sixth note as his left hand dances on the neck, providing everything from a subtle vibrato to hammering decorations. The overall effect is mesmerizing.
Some critics may complain that the dirty production and trap set drumming on this record occasionally dull the edges of such distinctive music. But there are plenty of tracks deeply rooted in the Tuareg style. And in addition to greatly increasing his potential audience, the collaboration with Auercach has served to further Bombino's musical horizons, providing him the opportunity to paint some stunning new sonic landscapes.