Live @ Le Poisson Rogue, NYC
It was a rare treat to have this guitar player visit NYC, and for those who have not heard him Bombino (Omara Moctar) is a Turareg artist who lives in the country of Niger but plays protest music for his nomadic people. The intriguing thing is his fluidity and flair of Western style rock that he places into his Eastern sounding songs. His sound is very popular in Africa and with this years release Agadez he is being discovered by music fans here in America. Tonight's performance was his only in New York City as his brief North American tour travels west and ends on 12-13 in Mexico City.
Wearing their traditional garb Bombino himself and a percussionist took the stage to open the night with 3 acoustic offerings. Singing in his native tongue Bombino express his emotions and having no knowledge of what is being sung doesn't cause much of problem because the feelings come through. There was a middle eastern flair with the acoustic numbers that fit the venue well, as Le Poisson Rogue has an artsy vibe that is a world away from the Bleecker St mayhem just outside.
After the short acoustic openers and a few grateful "Merci Beaucoup's" and "Thank You's" from Bombino the percussionist jumped behind the drum kit to start the pumping snare and beat that would vary only slightly and stay driving the rest of the night. A second (unnecessary in most ways) Turareg guitarist joined as did an out of place looking t-shirt and jean wearing older white bass player who kept the tight simplistic groove going. That is primarily what Bombino is all about, the groove.
Once electric the songs got longer and repetitive sinking into deep deep groves that try to reach trance like states, reminiscent in style to Fela Kuti's approach but a totally different sound. The simple notes recycle themselves over and over again while Bombino steps to the front and adds electric sonic flairs over the constant beats. There are no parts or changes just augmented, stylistic diversions from the lead player while he sings. Some songs and grooves enchanted on this night, others fell flat with no emotion or importance emanating from them. The tone and sound is very intriguing combining an almost surf vibe to the eastern style giving the ear a unique twist of something that sounds familiar and foreign at the same time.
Bombino has been compared to Jimi Hendrix by others, but Hendrix he is not. Barring the lack of showmanship or abandon his playing is much more restrained as he is content to stick to the beats and notes for the majority of his tunes rather then explore. A better comparison would be to older blues players like, Muddy Waters or John Lee Hooker who could sit in the same simple note soup for hours and still cook up something tasty from them. The snake like riffs that Bombino toyed with tonight could be appreciated by those masters, and if he tossed in a cover of "Crawling King Snake" that would indeed be an exciting concoction of styles.
Set List: Tar Hani, Inchin Chilan, Tenere Ietninhal, Ouhou Iakamin, Tebsakh Dalet, Adounia, Tenere, Kammou Taliat, Amidinin, Imouhar
Here are some live songs from the Bombino to give you a sense of his music, you can buy the fantastic album Agadez here. RtBE will be reviewing the album early next month.