The name Bombino likely means nothing to you. To the average North American the word might sound foreign, and it does sound decidedly non-English but as to what a bombino might be, your guess is as good as mine was about two years ago. Before I discovered the wonderful world of Tuareg music, I would have been hard pressed to come up with an answer to what a bombino could be; a situation similar to yours right now.
As it turns out, Bombino is in fact, a person.
Born outside of Agadez, near the geographic centre of Niger, Oumara Moctar was raised as part of a Tuareg tribe; a nomadic group of people who roam the desolate Sahara desert. As a teenager, Moctar had been forced to flee Niger thanks to a Tuareg rebellion taking place in his home country. His following years of exile in Algeria saw him herding cattle and playing guitar, teaching himself to play based off old videos of Mark Knopfler and Jimi Hendrix.
Fast forward to 2016 and Oumara Moctar operates under the pseudonym Bombino, leading a band of the same name. Together the group has toured relentlessly across the globe, allowing me to stumble upon a show of theirs on New Zealand’s North Island and later kick myself for not going. Currently, Bombino is touring to promote the release of their latest album Azel, a word which means many things in the Tuareg language of Tamasheq, my favourite translating roughly to “that’s my jam”.
On April 30th I had the good fortune of seeing Bombino play live here in Vancouver. The concert was unlike anything I’ve ever seen, with the band playing at full steam for nearly two hours. There were no slow interludes between songs so the artists could rest, but rather three acoustic tracks at the beginning followed by 90 minutes of wailing guitars, thunderous drums and a sprinting bass. With a surprisingly small amount of lighting and stage effects, the four members threw together a performance which had the audience braying and jumping, dancing about as though there was no tomorrow. Of couse, for the performers there would be no tomorrow for their tour; we were the last stop before Bombino was to head home to visit family and friends.
During a few short breaks, the Bassist, Youba Dia, spoke to the audience in reluctant English, occasionally making use of the crowd’s collective knowledge of French to help translate his message. On one such instance, the man said “Here in the rich countries: America, Canada, Europe, you see only the bad in Africa. The poverty. The troubles. The war.” At this point the crowd had fallen silent, listening intently to the monologue, wondering what was next. “And yes…” he continued, “Sometimes. But we also sing in Africa, and we dance. We laugh and we play music.” The crowd murmured in agreement as the bassist continued, taking notice of the apprehension many North Americans feel about visiting the Africa that exists beyond coastal resorts and air-conditioned safaris.
“So come, come to Africa and you will see.”
The words spoken felt genuine, and the expressions on the other musicians’ faces reflected a deep sense of pride in their cultural invitation. From the audience, the address was met with cheers and shouts of agreement. I turned to my friend and jokingly mentioned that I wanted to go to Africa, but beneath my smile I wasn’t joking. It’s become a routine to compliment the city and the audience at concerts, telling us that we’re the “greatest crowd ever” as we shout back incoherent syllables of praise or gratitude. It was clear though, that Youba Dia was not preaching love and togetherness for the sake of famemongering. The man towering over us with his glowing bass guitar was truly wishing to break the stigma against Africa that we cling to so tightly here in North America.
Perhaps he convinced some of the crowd to visit his continent, or perhaps his invitation sailed right over our heads, but I understood. I understood why he chose those words, and I understood the frustration that caused him to speak to us. As western society races towards the future, we’re leaving behind many people. For the Tuareg of the great Sahara desert, the world is running away from them at a rate they aren’t capable of matching. We preach equality within our borders but do nothing to extend equality to those being passed over by our selective globalization. The man wasn’t asking for money, or fame; he wasn’t asking us to play the role of benefactor to Africa. All he was asking was for us to shed our ignorance and fear, to see men and women for the people they are, and to globalise with equality.
An acoustic version of Azel’s second track
If you haven’t already heard Bombino’s music, I highly recommend it and ask that you buy it rather than find a free copy floating around. As a man who has had two of his bandmembers killed in armed rebellions, and been forced into exile twice thanks to conflicts, Bombino is certainly deserving of the revenue generated from his music. He has been called the next Hendrix, and is without a doubt, one of the best guitarists I’ve ever seen.
For more music and information, please go to Bombino’s website