Performance Friday, December 6, 2013 | 10 PM


Zankel Hall
Born into an era of armed struggle along the Niger and Mali border, guitarist and singer-songwriter Bombino is on a mission to bring peace and international brotherhood to the world through song. His electrifying jams capture the spirit of rebellion, while echoing with Jimi Hendrix–like riffs reminiscent of fellow Africans Tinariwen and Ali Farka Touré.

This concert is part of Late Nights at Zankel Hall.


  • Bombino

Event Duration

The program will last approximately 90 minutes with no intermission.


  • Bombino

    Omara "Bombino" Moctar is a guitarist and singer from the Sahara desert who has built a legendary reputation in his homeland as a musical harbinger of peace. Born and raised in Niger in the northern city of Agadez, Bombino is a member of the Tuareg Ifoghas tribe, a nomadic people descended from the Berbers of North Africa. For centuries, the Tuareg tribes-scattered throughout Niger, northern Mali, southern Algeria, and Libya-have fought against colonialism and the imposition of strict Islamic rule.

    During Bombino's lifetime, the Tuareg people have fought the Niger government to secure their rights on numerous occasions, causing Bombino and his family to flee several times. During one such exile, relatives visiting from the frontlines of the rebellion left behind a guitar, and Bombino began teaching himself to play it. He eventually studied with the renowned Tuareg guitarist Haja Bebe, who asked him to join his band, where he acquired the nickname "Bombino"-a variation on the Italian word for "little child." While living in Algeria and Libya in his teen years, Bombino's friends played him videos of Jimi Hendrix and Mark Knopfler, among others, which they watched over and over in an effort to master their licks. Bombino worked regularly as a musician and also as a herder in the desert near Tripoli, spending many hours alone watching the animals and practicing his guitar. He eventually returned to Niger, where he continued to play with a number of local bands. As his legend grew, a Spanish documentary film crew helped Bombino record his first album, Group Bombino: Guitars from Agadez Vol. 2, which became a local radio hit.

    In 2009, Bombino met filmmaker Ron Wyman, who had heard a cassette of Bombino's music while traveling near Agadez. Wyman was enchanted by Bombino's music and spent a year seeking him out, eventually tracking him down to Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, where he was in exile after two band members were killed in a rebellion. (The Tuaregs have since put down their arms and returned to Niger.) At the end of the war, Bombino returned to Agadez with Wyman and staged a concert to celebrate the newfound peace that permanently established Bombino as a hero of the Tuareg people.

    Wyman featured Bombino in a documentary he was filming about the Tuareg and also produced his 2011 solo album, Agadez, which was released on the Cumbancha label and helped introduce Bombino to a global audience. Since the album's release, Bombino has toured the US and Europe to critical acclaim. In April of this year, Bombino recorded Nomad (Nonesuch), an album that debuted at the top of the Billboard and iTunes world music charts.

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"Tenere" ("The Desert, My Home")

Desert Blues and Its Origins

Much has been written about the roots of the blues over the past 50 years, yet so little is really known as to the origins of the music that was incubated in the Mississippi Delta and other parts of the American South. Ethnomusicologists and folklorists from Alan Lomax to Samuel Charters and others have conjectured that Africans sold as slaves brought their music with them to these shores. There is little doubt that the skin-faced lutes and harp-lutes that are common to many of the peoples of North and West Africa—the xalam, ngoni, konting, sintir—provided the prototype for the American banjo. And listening to the ostinato figures played on the kora or ngoni by griots to accompany praise songs and recitations of oral history, one is reminded of the guitar-picking of country bluesmen from the Piedmont, as well as the Delta finger-picking style of artists such as Mississippi John Hurt. Of course, the songs are very different, the one extolling the virtues of kings and heroes, the other lamenting the lot of impoverished people. Nevertheless, some African music exhibits an undeniable kinship with the African American music we call the blues.

Perhaps then it should come as no surprise that Africans, listening to recordings and radio broadcasts of American and European blues and rock for nearly half a century, should come up with their own versions. From the 1970s to the 1990s, American artists like Taj Mahal, Ry Cooder, and Béla Fleck have actively promoted such West Africans as Alhaji Bai Konte (Gambia), Toumani Diabaté (Mali), Ali Farka Touré (Mali), and Basseko Kouyate (Niger) through tours and recordings. The person most often touted as the grandfather of African blues is Ali Farka Touré, whose electric guitar riffs and vocals were much influenced by Mississippi Delta bluesman John Lee Hooker. Touré's son Vieux Farka Touré and other younger Malian musicians have continued this trend.

In recent years, the biggest boost to the so-called "desert blues" has come from the northern reaches of Mali and Niger, from the Tuareg or Tamashek-speaking minorities. In the early 1980s, a style of music known as ishumar began to be heard in North Africa. The name derives from the French word chômeur, meaning "unemployed." A major drought in 1984 in northern Mali and Niger killed off much of the livestock by which the Tuareg earned their living as herders and traders. Large numbers of these semi-nomadic people migrated to towns and cities in Libya and Algeria looking for work. Groups such as Tinarawen began writing lyrics expressing the Tuareg plight. Eventually, their music became the rallying call of a rebellion. Long recognized as fierce warriors, overlooked and underrepresented by their respective governments, these people of the Sahara joined together to fight for their rights. It is no doubt because of their predicament as a marginalized people that Tuareg music comes across as so powerful and reflects so clearly the sentiments of the blues. After two long hard-fought wars, peace has finally come to their communities, and the Tuareg are hopeful of having a far greater say in local government. Artists such as Bombino represent a new generation of musicians who combine traditional rhythms with the driving force of rock. Their songs extol the virtues of peace and love and of their desert homeland, while reminding us that the fight (for their rights) is not over.

—Robert H. Browning

Presented by Carnegie Hall in partnership with Robert Browning Associates LLC.
This performance is part of World Views.

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