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Bombino puts a Western spin on Tuareg rock

The Niger-based musician joins this weekend's CRASHfest.

Vittorio Catti

Bombino, the Niger-based musician néeOmaraMoctar, fell in love with the guitar as a child refugee living in Algeria. “The guitar to me represented freedom and it became my only dream,” he says.

Now 37,Bombinohas made recording and performingTuaregrock across the globe his calling. Like fellowTuaregmusiciansTinariwen, his masterful guitar skills reflect influences fromJimiHendrix and MarkKnopfler(of the Dire Straits) as well as techniques translated from a traditional lute and a one-stringed bowed instrument called theimzad.

ForAzel, his fifth record,Bombinochannels Bob Marley for a style he calls “Tuareggae.” Ahead of his show Saturday as part ofCRASHfest, we interviewed the singer/guitarist through a translator over email on working with producer DaveLongstreth(of the Dirty Projectors) on the record, his lifelong love of Hendrix and MarkKnopflerand theTuaregculture.

Growing up, what did you particularly like aboutJimiHendrix and MarkKnopfler?

I loved their music, quite simply, but also the way they handled themselves on stage. They had so much confidence and strength. I admired them very much as a child and I tried for hours every day to play like them.

Why did you decide to bring reggae influences intoTuaregmusic onAzel?

It was not so much a decision as something that just began to happen naturally in my shows over the past few years. As we jammed on stage we would find ourselves going into a reggae style and we enjoyed it, so these new songs developed this character.

On the record, you also added some Western harmonies and organ with Dave Longstreth’s help. How do these elements help shape the songs?

I think this helps to introduce my music to new audiences. There are elements of our music and music in the West that are really not the same, and things like harmonies and organ can help to act like forms of translation of the music. This is how I see it. I like the sound of these touches that Dave added, and I think he helped to make an album that many people can like, not justTuaregpeople and fans of pureTuaregmusic.

Can you explain some of theTuaregsocial and political issues that you sing about onAzel?

That is a very big question. Each song deals with a different subject. Some are about respect, about fraternity, about love of your wife or your family, about remembering your history and your culture. These are just some of the issues found in the lyrics onAzel.

As aTuaregambassador to America, what would you like to tell us about your culture?

My culture is threatened. It is like an endangered culture, you can say, because more and moreTuaregpeople are leaving for the West and even those remaining, many are forgetting the values and traditions of our culture. We have a beautiful culture. Some of the best art and music and dance and food and also moral values belong to us. It would be very sad for all of humanity to lose these things, so I find it very important to be an Ambassador forTuaregculture.

If you go:

CRASHfest:Bombinow/ SanFermin,SalifKeita and more

Jan. 28 at 5:30 p.m.
House of Blues
15LansdowneSt.
$48, crashfest.org

 

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