Among the best discoveries of 2011 was Bombino, a 31-year-old Tuareg guitarist with an Italian-inspired nickname, a life that in short order forced him to take up residence in four different countries around his beloved Sahara Desert, and a sound and shredding ability that inspire references to Jimi Hendrix.
Born in northern Niger in 1980 to a family that totaled 17 children, Bombino (Omara Moctar) spent his early years traveling between a Tuareg encampment and the small city of Agadez. Drought and then two vicious wars eventually scattered his community: He fled to Algeria and then Libya in the 1990s and, upon the start of a second Tuareg rebellion against the government of Niger in 2007 (when two of his musicians were killed), Bombino went into exile in Burkina Faso. He returned to Niger in 2010.
As a teenager, Bombino had already discovered his own escape: playing music. While his family was still in Algeria, some relatives left behind treasured guitars, and Bombino taught himself to pick out tunes by local bands like his elder heroes in Tinariwen. Later, an uncle presented him with the gift of his own guitar, and even amid constant personal upheaval, Bombino cultivated his music, his language and Tuareg traditions. He immersed himself in his life's mission: to help his people achieve equal rights, and to preserve their unique identity peacefully.
Jimi Hendrix remains a touchstone for the so-called "Tuareg rock" or "desert blues" musicians like Bombino and Tinariwen, but Bombino's music feels looser. In live shows, he relaxes into his riffs; the songs are tight, but the effect is nearly rambling, almost as if he's improvising on stage.
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