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Group Bombino - Guitars From Agadez, Vol. 2

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Artist: Group Bombino

Album: Guitars From Agadez, Vol. 2

Label: Sublime Frequencies

Review date: Jan. 29, 2009

In my review of Volume 1 of Guitars from Agadez (Music of Niger), I referred to the Tuareg Rebellion of Northern Africa in the past tense. Unfortunately, that was a syntax error. The conflict between the Northern African Tuareg people and the governments of Niger and Mali has once again flared into acts of violence over the last year. In an over-simplified explanation, the region’s instability stems from the numerous claims to the world’s largest uranium deposits, which reside in the Northern Niger and Northeast Mali section of the Sahara desert – the same area the Tuareg people have inhabited for centuries. And as increasingly destructive weapons find their way into the conflict, the more dangerous the region has become.

Sublime Frequencies’ Hisham Mayet found himself once again in the city of Agadez – an important strategic location for the Tuareg Rebellion – in early 2007. He was trailing the name Bombino, a 28-year-old guitarist whose reputation as a fiery performer was spreading through the region. Mayet eventually made his way to a large wedding, which not only featured Group Inerane (from the first volume of this series), but Group Bombino headlining the bill. The young and charismatic frontman, Oumara AlMoctar, lived up to the reverence of his name, and it went without question that Mayet needed to capture this music for a wider audience. And it’s a good thing he did, because the uprising occurred just a couple months later.. By the end of the year, the only road between Agadez and the capital – also the main supply center – was saturated by land mines and the Niger government banned the area to international journalists and aid organizations.

Mayet’s recording spans Side B of the vinyl-only release of Group Bombino’s Guitars from Agadez (Music of Niger), Volume 2. The music is similar in fashion to Volume 1 – the commanding Saharan psychedelia of the Tuareg guitar style – but Group Bombino is more dependent on the blusterous and bluesy guitar riffs for energy rather than the shrilling female chorus of Group Inerane. Bombino, though young, is quite the virtuoso on lead guitar. But it’s the acoustic recordings from Group Bombino’s archives on Side A that are the real treat here.

As a youth, Bombino was first taught the "dry guitar" method of the Tuareg guitar style. In Western terms, that is easily translated: he was taught on acoustic instead of electric. In the liner notes, Mayet explains that this layering of elliptical acoustic guitar grooves and steady hand rhythms stem from musical legends of the Taurerg – Mali’s Tinariwen and Abdulla Oumbadogou – and regional influences like Ali Farka Toure. But there is something very individual about Bombino. For such a youthful soul, his music is very relaxed. And most surprisingly, this may be the most easily accessible entrant in the Sublime Frequencies catalog to date. For example, the vocal melody of "Amidinine" is surprisingly Western sounding. As Bombino tenderly sings the chorus’s "la la la la la,” the only discernable difference in hemisphere is the distinctive Middle Eastern vibrato on the extended last syllable. These weaving acoustic guitar grooves are universally enchanting.

But perhaps the most amazing aspect of Group Bombino is the tone of the music. These are people stuck at what might as well be the end of the Earth; there is no escape without grave danger. But there is no negativity in the tone of their music. There is no metallic rage, no emotive shrieks, no anarchic angst, no desperate pleas – just a hypnotic guitar groove and somber group singing. I very much doubt it’s the sound of complete resolve. Maybe just humble acceptance of the life they’ve been dealt.

By Michael Ardaiolo

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