As many people who try to make a living out of creating music could tell you: it’s a constant battle against the world. Something or someone plays a role into the task of bringing you down. Most parents look at it as a hobbie that will eventually wear off. Most of your teachers who taught “real subjects” at your school saw it as a childish dream. Sure, it’s always a issue when doing what you love, some people just try to hold you back. But what if playing and loving music was a matter of life and death?
Sadly, that’s a dilemma some truly gifted people have faced since the beggining of human kind. And it’s even sadder that it still happens nowadays. One of the latest victims of music censorship is Omara “Bombino” Moctar, a Tuareg guitar player born in a region where rebellions forced many families to find exile in other territories; he was raised in the middle of violence, where a guitar in a hands of a 12 year old was equivalent to a death sentence.Bombino – Kammou Taliat by crizallide
Bombino’s Kammou Taliat
Luckily for the world, some artists are bold enough to risk their own lives for the sake of their own happiness. A happiness only reachable through the creation of sound and only transferable through the sound itself. Even though the language in his songs should limit the size of his audience, Bombino keeps on proving emotions don’t need a specific vocabulary to reach worldwide acceptance.
México City had the honor to be the last city on his 2011 tour, and we had the privilege to witness the good side of musical globalization. El Plaza Condesa was chosen as the venue to receive Bombino and his four piece band. Starting with an acoustic set and wearing traditional Tuareg clothing, their instruments and nothing else, all the tables and their occupants were mesmerized from the first note that came out of Bombino’s acoustic guitar. And it remained that way until the night turned electric.
Surprisingly shy in between songs and speaking only in French, Bombino transformed at the beggining of each song into a rhythmic beast: dancing in front of the microphone, waving his guitar from side to side, shaking his head carelessly, seemingly sending himself to another place and taking us all with him. He displayed a passion long forgotten by many modern guitarists. Mixing african rhytyms with hard rock, reggae, blues riffs, latin beats and arabic-like guitar licks, one could notice the resemblance so often talked about Bombino’s music: its strange and universal at the same time. It sounds like a lost link between traditional African music and the beggining of the Jimi Hendrix era.
Bombino even has a Hendrix vibe to him: even if you are not a guitar player, you are able to hear the roughness in his style mixed with the passion of a careless kid on every single note. The beauty of it all, is that you can transform his unknown words into your own and give them any meaning you like: making someone else’s music your own, at least for a moment. The only problem was the way the audience was forced to behave: calmed and sitting far from the stage in little tables meant for no more than 4 people. And that isn’t the right way to listen to such emotionally charged music.
That’s why, in the middle of their set, a fellow Tuareg citizen stood up, got on the stage, took over the microphone and talked on behalf of Bombino. He explained this kind of music, Tuareg rhythyms and african sounds are not meant to be listened while sitting. The whole purpose of it is to transmit joy, the joy of breathing, living and celebrating happiness. And from that moment on, everyone stood up and danced along to Boghassa, Tar Hani and many songs from his latest LP Agadez . We all danced face to face to a living example of survival.
After a set improvised on the spot, two encores, standing ovations and receiving the love of his last audience for the rest of the year, Bombino and his band filled what would have been just another boring Tuesday night with dancing, joy and hundreds of people with swollen feet. That Tuesday night proved that, even though music can sometimes become a matter of life or death, it is worth fighting for it. Bombino did fight and managed to survive. And here he is now: singing about his conuntry, pleace, love, family, his people.
He is happy putting aside the rest of the topics often heard in today’s music and simply singing about his life. Because music is a beautiful kind of life itself.
Jorge A. López Mendicuti
Guitarist, multi-instrumentalist, law school graduate, amateur writer and music fan