For Tuareg guitarist and singer-songwriter Omara “Bombino” Moctarin, being a musician is more than a profession -- it's a lifestyle that's taken him from a government uprising in northern Niger to no. 1 on the Billboard and iTunes world charts. In the uprising, Bombino narrowly escaped death (two band members were killed) and was living in exile in Burkina Faso when he was tracked down by Boston filmmaker Ron Wyman, who had heard a cassette of his music. Wyman took Bombino back to Niger, and his 2011 album Agadez was produced there.
Last year, Bombino teamed up with the Black Keys' Dan Auerbach to record Nomad in Nashville, which he's touring in support of now. He took the stage at The Independent in San Francisco last night with supporting openers Waterstrider and Harry Duncan (I unfortunately missed most of the opening act).
Bombino is mesmerizing live. Even while seated in a chair, he slinks from left to right, bringing energy into his hypnotic music. Accompanied by Mauritanian bassist Djakrave Dia, guitarist and road manager Avi Salloway, and drummer Corey Wilhelm, Bombino took us through the highlights of his new album with fervor.
The live show's energy was driven by tempo changes in the tracks; a slow, acoustic opening would quickly turn into an all-out jam fest followed by chanted vocals, hand claps, and frenetic dancing by the man of the hour.
It's easy to see Dan Auerbach's influence on Bombino's overall sound -- there's a raw edge to it that recalls the psychedelic rock of the Black Keys, and there were certain guitar licks and harmonica solos that reminded me of some classic blues/bluegrass. Other times, I caught wind of tropical, surf rock undertones. Bombino's music bends genres and borders -- and even though I can't understand the lyrics, they instill a sense of unity and soul that you can easily pick up on.
Truly worth checking out if Bombino is coming to your area -- I believe he's headed over to the East Coast soon, so check out dates here.