The Five Hurdles of Bombino

... and a happy end

Guitar player Omara ‘Bombino’ Moctar has cleared so many hurdles on his road to becoming an accomplished musician, that it’s a miracle he’s coming to BIRD at all. Before his concert in the BIRD on Tuesday 5 November, we’re listing the biggest obstacles on the road to the guitar virtuoso’s final destination as an artist.

1. School

It might be because of his Tuareg roots, but Bombino’s anti-authoritarian attitude manifested itself at an early age. When he was at the school-going age, his father enrolled him in a school in the big city. Bombino said no, so passionately and often that his grandmother decided to take him away from his father. Dad will turn out to be a hurdle as well, but more about that later. Omara isn’t against education, for that matter, he’s more of a professional autodidact. He found a better teacher for himself in the shape of Jimi Hendrix on videotape.

2. The drought of 1984

Niger and Mali (and Bombino) are hit by a devastating drought that affected a lot of inhabitants of (Central) West Africa in 1984. The Tuareg, who are dependent on rain for their cattle, escape to the big city or to neighbouring countries. Dissatisfied with their economical and political position – local governments do nothing to improve their conditions – they start turning their dissatisfaction into songs called ishumar, which explain the story of their people and the injustices they face. As a young boy, Bombino is introduced to this genre, and it will be of great importance for his development as a musician.

3. Tuareg uprising #1

The unrest in 1984 leads to riots, and these reach fever pitch in 1990, during the Tuareg uprising. The government declares the Tuareg enemies of the state, and Bombino escapes from Niger to Algeria. Once there, he suppresses his homesickness by playing his favorite ishumar. This is the first time he holds a guitar.

4. Parental pressure

Years later, back in Niger and inseparable from his guitar, Bombino’s father shows up again. This time, he wants a normal job and a normal life for his son, and being a musician isn’t part of that. Omara once again decides not to conform, and he goes to Libya. He becomes friends with local musicians, and he spends a lot of time with them, watching videoclips of Jimi Hendrix and Mark Knopfler. To earn money, he works as a shepherd, and while watching his herd he has complete liberty to work on his guitar skills in peace.

5. Tuareg uprising #2

The Tuareg rebel for a second time in Niger in 2007. Bombino, back in his mother country, is part of this uprising. A lot of Tuareg don’t survive the unrelenting approach of the government, including two of Bombino’s band members. Once again he has to flee, this time to Burkina Faso.

Happy end

In 2010, peace – and Bombino – return to Niger. To celebrate this peace, he and Ron Wyman, a director making a documentary about Bombino’s life, organise an open air concert right in front of the Agadez Mosque. Thousands of jubilant spectators come to listen to Bombino’s hypnotising sounds of peace. The guitar player now works with international artists and producers, including Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys, he performs all over the world, and his most recent album Nomad is featured on multiple Best Albums of… lists.

This article is a joint effort of music platform Zinesters (worth checking out) and BIRD.

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