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All the way from Saharan Africa, guitar wizard Bombino makes accessibly catchy music

Stop Worrying and Love the Bombino



If there's one thing this city can agree on — if there's one thing that unites us despite differences in religion, social class, ethnicity and political leanings — it's that guitars are awesome. I don't care what subculture you belong to (be it folk, hip-hop or electronic) or ideology you subscribe to (be it arch-conservative or armchair anarchist), if you call this town home, there's a 99.9 percent chance that you love the sound of six strings being struck, rattling against those frets and exploding out of a speaker coil. It's a sound that binds us, that crosses arbitrary cultural lines and defines the "music" in Music City. And while there is cause to say that we are home to some of the greatest guitar players in the world, the simple fact is that we're not home to the greatest one. Home to the greatest guitar players in the Western Hemisphere? Definitely. But we can't claim the worldwide championship crown until Omara "Bombino" Moctar buys a place out in Bellevue.

Not to knock our homegrown guitar heroes —there's obviously some great talent here that should make any local proud — but there's a tad bit of ethno-centricty in claiming that we have a monopoly on guitar gods. It's not wrong to view America as the center and origin of electric guitar traditions, but there's an entire world out there that's contributing to the six-string lexicon, taking it into places that we as Americans would never venture. And no one is pushing boundaries better than Bombino. The Tuareg guitarist — a member of the traditionally nomadic culture that dwells mostly in central-Saharan countries including Mali, Niger, Algeria, Libya and Burkina Faso — takes the melodic and structural forms of Saharan music and then shreds the shit out of them on his Stratocaster. It's an Old World-New World collision that could be called experimental if it weren't, well, so damn universal.

Bombino might be from the other side of the globe, but his music hits entirely close to our Southern home, evoking hill-country blues, mountain folk, modal jazz and multitudinous rock 'n' roll spawn. There's probably half a dozen bands in the city trying to capture that formula at this very moment — or at least half a dozen bands talking about trying to capture that formula over beers at Red Door. It's a visceral sound that sets the mind reeling the same way Sleep's "Jerusalem" or Bob Dylan's version of the Blind Lemon Jefferson tune "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean" does; a sound in which its inherent simplicity gives each subtle shift — each microscopic movement of a finger on a fret, each quiver in a vocal chord — a momentous weight and voluminous resonance. If the truest indicator of a great instrumentalist is his or her ability to lay back, to let the songs breath without overplaying, then Bombino certainly earns a spot among the best of the best.

On Bombino's Cumbancha Records debut Agadez — named for the Niger city — his percussive finger-picking and sublimely fluid fretwork are the foundation for exceptionally catchy tunes. Regardless of whatever ethnomusicological tropes or ham-fisted doom-metal references you may want to invoke regarding the origins and dissemination of musical ideas over the course of civilizations' rise and evolution, when all is said and done, songs like "Tebsakh Dalet (A Green Acacia)" and "Kammou Taliat (You, My Beloved)" get stuck in your head. I will freely admit that my foreign language skills amount to roughly a smattering of poop jokes and a list of kaiju characters, but that doesn't stop me from belting out "Tenere (The Desert, My Home)" at the top of my lungs with the windows down, neighbors and fellow commuters be damned. Not that my neighbors would mind the music — Saharan music is just as common as norteño and nu metal in my little United Nations of a neighborhood — and I'm sure your neighbors wouldn't, either. This is Nashville, and there's nothing we love more than an amazing guitar player with catchy tunes.


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