In Conversation With: Bombino

Bombino

WOMAD FESTIVAL 2017 - Saturday 29th - Main Stage

 

Who is Bombino? 

In the North of Africa the great Sahara Desert spans across Northern Mali, Niger, Algeria, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Morocco and plenty of North East Africa too. The Tuaregs are a nomadic people who have roamed the Sahara with their cattle since pre-colonial times.

In recent decades civil unrest has made life for the Tuaregs hard and has resulted in years of violent conflict. 

However, the social and political unrest gave way for a new genre of music hailing from the exiled Tuaregs. Ibrahim Ag Albabib, band leader of Grammy award winning Tuareg musicians -  Tinariwen, is accredited with creating ‘al-guitara’ music, so named for the addition of the electric guitar. They played the electric guitar in a blues style inspired by the likes of Malian desert mega star - Ali Farka Touré. Al guitara, or Saharan desert blues as it can be referred to by, mixed these virtuosic guitar solos with the traditional music fo the Tuareg cultures inspired by musical gatherings called ‘aggiwin’s. The songs are based around cyclical patterns and continuous characteristic grooving rhythms played on calabashes and clapping. All while with, predominantly male vocals in multiple harmonies. 

This new platform of music that was mainly decimated throughout the desert for years on home made cassette tapes that musicians would record their songs onto. This helped spread the music of al’guitara, and the ideologies of the Tuareg activists. 

Bombinos live album Agamgam released in 2010, is a good introduction to the life of the Tuaregs, opening the first track Ténéré opens with sounds from cattle. Considering the Tuaregs are a nomadic people of cattle, these sounds are idiosyncratic with the movement of nomads and their live stock. The second tune ‘Imuhar’ then opens with (I assume) is a Islamic citation, thus representing the religious ideologies of the Tuareg nomads of the desert. 

Bombino was raised a Muslim, and therefore taught honour and dignity, themes that run throughout his al’guitara music. Since starting to play, and traveling the world with his music, Bombino has played at all and any worthy festival, a favourite at WOMAD’s, this year playing at Coachella, and many many more. 

Furthermore Bombino now has three studio albums: Agadez, Nomad and Azel. 

I personally have found myself rather immersed in Bombinos long melodic guitar riffs, infectious rhythms and soft grooving vocals for a number of years, and find myself ecstatic to finally see him play at WOMAD 2017 Festival where he will be headlining the main stage.

It was a beautiful moment to find out I would have the chance to talk to one of my musical heroes….Here’s what happened. 

 

WOMAD Festival 2017

In a beautiful rush, I found myself being swept behind the Main Stage to the artist press area, awaiting outside the white tent labelled ‘Bombino’. Stood outside the tent keeping to themselves were two men in fine Tuareg attire. As a fan, I knew I was looking at Bombino.

I stood whilst a translator was being organised, after exchanging a smile and laugh I offered the gentleman a drink and they accepted. Without communication I enjoyed sharing a pleasant beverage with Bombino whilst we patiently waited for Bombinos English speaking bassist to be located. 

After a few minutes we off inside the tent, all communications go. I directed my questions to Bombino whilst our friend relayed two and forth between us.

Bombino sat most humble and spoke with an almost silent soft voice. I was taken aback given the  energy Bombino carries on stage to see that behind the shining lights and curtains stands an extremely humble, almost shy character, who speaks quietly, tends to not look up too much, and has an incredibly kind energy. 

After making ourselves comfortable and getting to know each other a little, I began to ask some questions…. 

 

Sophie Darling (SD): For people who aren’t familiar with your music and know if it as the Tuareg desert blues, is this how you would describe your music through your eyes and ears? 

Bombino (B): It’s universal music you know, it’s like the desert, the desert is big, it is open. But I am Tuareg and the bass is still Tuareg and then I mix with other colours and other things you know, so for me it’s universal music for everyone everywhere. 

SD: I’d like to know how you first picked up the guitar?

B: I started to play guitar very young, this is why I was called Bombino, because I was a baby, and with a friend, a brother… in African everyone is your brother, we say brothers. So when I see my brothers play guitar, I come, I take a guitar and I try. And I take again and I try. So also I don’t have a professor, I am self taught, and then I develop my style. 

SD: I read that you were inspired by Jimi Hendrix… my question to you is there a one particular song that resonates most with you? 

B: *laughs* For me it is not just one song I love, I love them all. But this isn’t the point. The point is when I see Jimi Hendrix play his guitar, you see this connection between Jimi Hendrix and his guitar, you feel it, between him and HIS guitar, they are connected.

I am very very fond of this, this is what I want, this is what I try to be. This connection is very important to me, the connection between me and MY guitar. 

SD: Where do you call home? 

B: Niger. The Desert. 

SD:Have you been looking forward to playing WOMAD Festival (2017)? 

B: WOMAD is not the first time I have played here, but the first time it was so so special. This is my second time and it is still so special. I play a lot of big festivals like Coachella Festival and other big ones in the USA, but WOMAD will always be very very special. It is like the connections with the other artists and other musicians and the spirit here is different. 

And then we play another WOMAD in New Zealand and Australia, WOMAD is always an extra special show. It is true, all the artists want to play WOMAD.

SD: Your songs are sung in Tamasheq, the language of the Tuareg people, can you tell us a little bit about your people? 

B: So Tamasheq is the language of the Tuareg people, and the Tuareg people they are in African in Niger, Algeria, Mali, Libya, Burkina Faso, so all across the desert, so it’s a large language, you can write it’s own scripture. 

SD: Was there ever a temptation to sing a more universal language, such as French? As a lot of the Malian musicians do for example? 

B: They are not the same, all the songs are written in Tamasheq because it is my mother language, the English people for example, they do not think in French, it would be, confusing? Why you think in French? So it is the same, I am Tuareg, and my mother language is Tamasheq, and so if I can sing in Tamasheq, it will be easier and it will reach a lot of people from home, from my community, so if I were to sing in English or French then a lot of people in my community would not understand, so it is an easy decision. 

SD: So, in closing, do you have any pre or post gig rituals for good luck? 

B: Oh no, we are not superstitious, before we go on the stage we do… *high fives each band member* Boom. That is all we need before and after the show *laughs*

SD: Will you be coming to England on tour? 

B: Yes of corse!


SD:…and how about another album?… Please?

B: Of course. 

 

 

Moments after we concluded our interview, with friendly hugs and goodbyes, I left Bombino to get ready for his big show, which he was due to stage in half an hour. 

I left the artist area, and with great excitement ran around to the front fo the main stage and stood in the middle of an already heaving crowd, awaiting the humble quiet man I had just spoken too. 

What happened next blew my mind, like the caterpillar blossoming into a stunning butterfly, this tranquil character who had just been so reserved exploded onto the stage in a flurry of unstoppable guitar riffs, like Hendrix on stage, Bombino played his guitar with such rock’n’roll muster I could barely believe it was the same man I had just spoken too. 

The entire gig’s energy sky rocketed, with dancing, singing, even screaming from the audience, the whole performance was stunning. The musicality was genius. Watching Bombino play endless cyclical guitar riffs, whilst singing, dancing, and hyping was immense. Truly one fo the best guitarists I have ever seen, the whole ensemble worked to perfection. A friend I knew in th crowd hadn’t heard of Bombino before however found himself bewildered at the musical talent, and found himself somewhat addicted to the Sahara Desert guitarist.