Author: Linda Vakunta
“Comment va tu?”
“Ca va, merci”
“Et le voyage?”
My co-host, Alhaji N’jai, and I went backstage to get acquainted with the artist before introducing him on stage. The young Tuareg guitarist and songwriter appeared a bit shy—the effects of a new environment, no doubt. He was dealing with a language barrier and a mild case of nervousness. It very well could have been a combination. As we spoke, he loosened up, finally hearing a language he could respond to—French, with an heavy African accent. He was reserved but smiled often, although, only enough to show some teeth. We went into the artist’s tent to meet his band members. They were less shy and a bit more eager to engage than their front man.
Bombino, whose official name is Omara Moctar, had just arrived from Nigér for his first gig in the United States. He is a member of the Tuareg people. The Tuareg people have historically called themselves “Imohag,” translated as free men. But, the word Tuareg literally means, “abandoned by God.” They are a nomadic-herder culture and people, who inhabit the Sub-Saharan region of North Africa and can be found in Niger, Mali, Libya, Algeria and Burkina Faso. At a very young age, Bombino had to flee his home in Agadez, Niger, during an armed struggle for resources in the early nineties. It was during this exile, which he spent in Algeria, that the young Bombino began playing and experimenting with the guitar. In 2010, Bombino was able to return to his home in Agadez and celebrated his return with a concert that drew thousands of fellow joyous Nigerians.
As we went up on stage to introduce the artist, who has been likened to greats like Tinariwen and Ali Farka Toure, I could only hope Bombino had come out of his skin before we delivered him to the eager audience. Tineriwen is, a band of Tuareg-Berber musicians from the Sahara Desert region of northern Mali, known for their deep soulful blues. And, ironically, they too had to flee a war and formed their band in exile while in Libya. Bombino’s comparison to Ali Fark Toure is perhaps one he still has to work up to. Ali Farka Toure is a genre-defining artist and one of the African continent’s most internationally renowned musicians from Mali. Madison, Wisconsin, has one of the most welcoming audiences in terms of international music, which is the reason a huge number of heavyweight artists visit the town. It has kept greats like Angelique Kidjo coming so consistently that she called it her second home during one of her concerts here.
The crowd was ready by the time we got on stage to do our introduction of the main act. Bombino’s song “Adounia,” from the Album Agardez, had been a hit with Pan Africa listeners and it was certain the track was on the play list for the evening. The band warmed up the crowd with a heavy instrumental track, then the tempo picked up and, by the third song, I wondered why I had even worried in the first place. His guitar work brought reminiscence of Ali Farka Toure and he moved like Jimi Hendrix on stage. There was no question: he and the guitar were one and that he took total joy in working every string on it. His high energy quickly got the crowd going and Madison did not want to leave when it was all over. The reserved man was a force on stage. He could work a crowd. He is an artist to look out for. Currently on tour, Bombino will be playing in Lafayette, Louisiana for Festival International de Louisiane. Their tour will soon take them to Europe, so catch them if you can!