Picture the scene gentle readers, picture the scene. Libya, circa ’96 or ’97 a group of young muslim musicians from the displaced Tuareg Peoples of Niger are in exile following the brutal crushing of an uprising, started to wrest better conditions and better human rights from the government. They are desperately sad, worried about loved ones, the survival of their culture, but not so much today. Today they are clustered together watching videos of Jimi Hendrix and Mark Knoplfer, trying to cop their moves and master their licks. I love the picture this paints of a musical universality, young men sitting around trying to work out the chords for ‘Sultans of Swing’ – it’s the sort of thing that makes me think the whole world may not be quite so fucked after all, but then again I’m from good hippy stock.
Okay so I’m cheating a bit on the whole 1537 thang, but I couldn’t resist writing about this one, it’s an absolute snorter: Bombino Nomad – winner of the prestigious 1537 #6 best LP of 2013 award no less and if I’d got off my self-satisfied backside and created one for ‘Most Impressive Guitar Slinger Discovered in 2013’ he’d have copped that one too.
Now I have a real thing for desert rock and desert blues, whether Eastern or Western in origin – I love Tinariwen, ZZ Top and Tamikrest all equally, nothing quite transports me like it^. There is just something about those wide-open spaces that seem conducive to creating that rolling, wide-screen music I love. I knew Bombino* like Tamikrest and Tinariwen was of Tuareg origin and sang in the Tamashek language, but in my ignorance I assumed he was Malian and he’s not, he is from Niger; a distinction which just shows how nonsensical and arbitrary it was for the colonial powers to impose their artificial concept of national boundaries on a tribal culture, anyway. His website has a really interesting and detailed bio, which goes into a decent potted cultural history of the region, well worth a read and far better than my trite nonsense.
This is not a man who picked up a guitar to get chicks, fame and a review on 1537. He played to entertain and to spread and to enforce Tuareg culture and first came to outside notice when he was forced to flee to Burkina Faso in 2007 after government forces in Niger killed two of his musicians in the reprisals that convulsed the nation after the second Tuareg rebellion. Since then he’s recorded with Charlie Watts and Keith Richards and spent a week as Angelina Jolie’s guide in Niger, Nomad was produced by Dan Auerbach AND he’s scored a review in 1537.
I know certain fundamentalist world music fans** don’t like it when West dabbles with East in a musical sense. I think Dan Auerbach does an absolutely sterling job here, even playing on the groovy instrumental ‘Niamey Jam’ in a recent magazine article I read Mr A said that Bombino’s band were ‘a well-oiled machine’ and that too many Western producers treat African artists as though they were discovering ancient old masters and not happening, vibrant young musicians. People forget I think that the electric guitar is not an indigenous African invention, musicians from the region fell in love with the old US blues maestros they heard and once they got hold of the hardware adapted their own music to startling effect.
Wasn’t I reviewing an LP? oh yes, Nomad. First track is everything you want from an opener, ‘Amidinine’ (My Friend) is a bright, gloriously happy major-key forceful statement of intent. That fabulous guitar noise to the fore, Ibrahim Atchinguil Emoud’s drums skittering in the background, it’s a perfect introduction. If you play comparison games with the likes of Tinariwen you could argue that it is a noticeably less blues-based, a more Westernised, more rocky approach – maybe, like Tamikrest, a younger man’s take on tradition. But really who cares when it grooves so well and the solo just flies like this?
The pattern is repeatedly perfectly in the raucous ‘Azamane Tiliade’ (The Era of Young Girls) which I read as a plea for tolerance of changing gender mores in a traditional society, in between playing air guitar and marvelling at the drumbeat which manages to sound a little like it has been recorded backwards. It’s cliché, I know but if you want to reap the maximum benefit from this then it really needs to be cranked up really high – trust me, each notch doubles your pleasure. True. This is doubly, trebley true of the instrumental ‘Niamey Jam’ which is the funkiest thing I have heard in a long while, featuring yet more wonderful guitar extemporising.
But I won’t just pick out all the rockers for you here, there are more contemplative pleasures on offer here on planet Nomad. I am particularly taken with the gentle ‘Her Tenere’ (In The Desert), which shimmers into view like a heat haze and then shimmies sedately along thereafter. Bombino’s plaintive vocal perfectly matches the subject matter too, nostalgia and meditation – the English translations don’t really work so well as so much of the musicality and melody is contained in the language. I also have a lot of time for the terribly sad ‘Zigzan’ (Patience), a highly atmospheric examination of the redemptive power of suffering and regrets for a girl left behind who didn’t make it, ‘Her memory haunts me day and night’. Closing track ‘Tamiditine’ (My Darling) gets bonus 1537 points for Russ Pahl’s gentle steel guitar accents throughout, this is an exquisitely gentle, grooving love song.
I’ve still not managed to see him play yet, but I’ll track Bombino down as soon as I can as I can imagine every track here being great to dance to and even more incandescent live. This is an excellent LP and you would have to be a real curmudgeon not to get swept up in the strutting joy, or to reject the calm wisdom, within – even if you were, just listen to that guitar!
^probably just because I hail from a pretty wet place.
*real name Omar Moctar, Bombino is a corruption of the Italian ‘Bambino’ which stuck.
**looking at you Mother 1537.