Tuareg guitarist and songwriter Omara “Bombino” Moctar is undeniably a man of many talents, but he seems to have his work cut out with the Saharan desert blues genre having been so convincingly sewn up by the titanic presence of Tinariwen. Finding an international audience in the shadow of one of the most acclaimed acts on the world music scene is a Herculean task. It’s lucky then that musical King Midas and one half of The Black Keys, Dan Auerbach, is on hand to produce and provide studio space at his own Easy Eye Sound studio in Nashville – a far cry from Bombino’s native Niger.
Last year Auerbach produced a blistering set for Dr John in the form of the brilliant Locked Down, and the sprinkling of fairy dust he applies is just as evident here. Although the music is still very much part of the African continent, the fuzzy blues licks could easily find a home on the resurgent American blues roster.
Bombino’s musical education has its genesis in turmoil, with the Tuareg tribe being forced to flee Niger on several occasions. During one exile a rebel left a guitar behind with Moctar’s family and Bombino (meaning “little child”) began to teach himself the basics, including spending hours watching videos of Jimi Hendrix and Mark Knopfler. There followed roles in local bands and small-scale cassette releases before greater recognition began in 2009. Given the western influence on his development it’s no surprise that Auerbach’s production fits Bombino like a glove.
Opening track Amidinine set the tone with a dirty blues lick forming the sonic equivalent of finding a case of Jack Daniels at a desert oasis. While many would be distracted by Auerbach’s presence, it’s Bombino’s guitar that’s the real star of the show. His deft playing, off-kilter and juxtaposed riffs never let up over the course of the album’s 11 tracks. Other highlights include Azamane Tiliade, in which a wall of guitar overdubs produces an alighty slab of noise, and Niamey Jam’s near-psychedelic tendencies. Elsewhere, the pace varies with more subtle tracks including the atmospheric Imuhar and Imidiwan.
Overall, this is a highly enjoyable work packed with infectious licks and proves to be an easy album to get along with from the get-go. The album’s title suggests that Bombino won’t let the grass grow under his feet for long, and it would be interesting to see his next move after the forthcoming European tour. Auerbach has delivered another crisply produced effort; given the variety of work he has produced since El Camino, the next steps for The Black Keys will be equally intriguing. In the meantime, sit back and enjoy.