Interview: Bombino ‘The Next Generation of Desert Blues’

As a young guitarist and songwriter, Omara Moctar AKA Bombino is already a heavy-hitter on the Tuareg music scene, riding high on world-wide status with folks like Tinariwen and All Farka Toure. Bombino has been touring the world over with his debut album, Agadez. OKA contributor, Semper Azeez-Harris caught up with Bombino in London before his crew crossed the pond to embark upon the North American leg of the tour.

Semper Azeez-Harris for Okayafrica: We were there in the audience when you performed on the famous ‘Later with Jools Holland‘ show in London (video below) what was that like for you?

Bombino: That was incredible!  It was really a new experience for me – I have never played like that on television before such a large audience around the world.  It felt like a dream.

OKA: How would you describe your sound, is it a mix of traditional and new?

B: Yes, my music is a mix of traditional and modern music for sure. I build all of my songs on the ancient Tuareg rhythms, which to us are the pulse of the desert.  Sometimes the chords and melodies that I write on top of that are new and influenced from American rock, but it is always in the same rhythmic structure as our traditional music. I would describe my music as Tuareg rock, blues, and folk music.  It is music of the vast Saharan Desert, quite simply.

OKA: How is the Agadez tour going at the moment and what have been the highlights?

B: The tour has been wonderful, all year long really.  We have been to over twenty countries and seen a great many new things for us.  Some highlights were playing in Israel — the people were so cool there — and in Japan.  I have never before seen traffic jams just of people walking in the street!  Also playing with Stevie Wonder in Los Angeles, Tinariwen in Minneapolis, Fools Gold in Paris, Juju in London — those were all very special shows that I will always cherish.

Stream Bombino’s debut album Agadez

OKA: How did your journey into music begin and indeed why?

B: I was very passionate about music since I was a young boy.  There were guitarists coming and going in my house all the time as a child, and then when my family fled to Algeria I got to play the guitar for the first time.  I was about twelve years old.  I cannot say why I have always loved music — it is just something that is in my heart and makes me happy.

OKA: Who were your musical inspirations and why?

B: My biggest inspirations are Ali Farka Toure, Tinariwen, Jimi Hendrix and Dire Straits — Ali Farka and Tinariwen were heroes of our people when I was growing up — everyone looked up to them as the music masters that were carrying our culture and introducing it to the outside world.  So I have enormous and eternal respect for them as my mentors.  I got my rock influences from Jimi Hendrix and Dire Straits – watching video clips of them playing when I was a young teenager in Algeria and Libya.  They opened my eyes to things on the guitar I had not imagined before, and I learned how freeing it could be to play the guitar.

OKA: How have the political troubles that Niger has faced affected you and the music you create?

B: My music is about my life and the lives of the Tuareg people of Niger.  I write songs about the hardships we have all faced, about our pain and struggle for freedom, about being torn apart by war and missing your loved ones. I am not the kind of artist that just writes song like “baby, i love you, let’s go dancing” and stuff like that.  My songs come from the heartaches of love – for people, for land and for peace.

OKA: Where is Niger musically and what should we be celebrating?

B: We should be celebrating the fact that Niger is free again and the Tuareg people have returned in peace to their land in Agadez.  It has been two years of peace after many years of conflict.  I am just hoping that this peace can continue for many years to come.

OKA: Where do you see African music in the next five years?

B: African music will be in five years like what it is now — a reflection of how the societies think and feel and the influences from outside that they are embracing.  Maybe there will be more electronic music in Africa, I don’t know.  But in any case, it will always be a balance between preserving our traditions and leading the way of an evolved society.

OKA: What are you working on currently?

B: I am working on my new album that we will begin recording early next year.

OKA: When can we expect your next project?

B: I think the new album will be released in the fall of next year.

OKA: Tell us a bit about Agadez, The Music and the Rebellion, the award-winning documentary that you appear in, and which highlights the Tuareg culture (trailer below).

B: This is a real masterpiece. Ron Wyman, the filmmaker, did an incredible job of showing Tuareg life as it is, not as someone from outside imagines it or wants it to be.  It is a real window into life in the desert.  It captures the beauty of the desert and also our struggle to survive in it.  I hope many more people will see this documentary so that they can better understand our lives and our struggles.

You can purchase Bombino’s latest album Agadez, here. Catch one of his amazing performances here.