Bombino, the Niger-based musician née Omara Moctar, 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, Bombino has made recording and performing Tuareg rock across the globe his calling. Like fellow Tuareg musicians Tinariwen, his masterful guitar skills reflect influences from Jimi Hendrix and Mark Knopfler (of the Dire Straits) as well as techniques translated from a traditional lute and a one-stringed bowed instrument called the imzad.
For Azel, his fifth record, Bombino channels Bob Marley for a style he calls “Tuareggae.” Ahead of his show Saturday as part of CRASHfest, we interviewed the singer/guitarist through a translator over email on working with producer Dave Longstreth (of the Dirty Projectors) on the record, his lifelong love of Hendrix and Mark Knopfler and the Tuareg culture.
Growing up, what did you particularly like about Jimi Hendrix and Mark Knopfler?
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 into Tuareg music on Azel?
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 just Tuareg people and fans of pure Tuareg music.
Can you explain some of the Tuareg social and political issues that you sing about on Azel?
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 on Azel.
As a Tuareg ambassador 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 more Tuareg people 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 for Tuareg culture.
If you go:
CRASHfest: Bombino w/ San Fermin, Salif Keita and more
Jan. 28 at 5:30 p.m.
House of Blues
15 Lansdowne St.