Music is still a rebellious act. Its sentiments have had political implications the world over and the sheer act of owning and operating an instrument can carry with it jail time. Such was the case for Tuareg guitarist Omara “Bombino” Moctar, who evaded execution and has assumed a peaceful role in the rebellion of a nation. An early exposure to Jimi Hendrix and Dire Straits guitarist Mark Knopfler ultimately inspired him to take up the guitar. It was a 2007 Tuareg Rebellion that forced him out of Niger, after the government banned the instrument from being played, though Bombino has continued to raise awareness of a worldwide plight for peace.
“The top priority [as a musician] is to create joy for the audience and get them dancing and having a great time at all my shows,” Bombino tells the Appeal. “But after that the most important thing for me is to raise awareness about our communities in the Sahara and have people from around the world appreciate our music and culture. As an artist it is my responsibility to help create these bridges across cultures in the spirit of love, peace, tolerance and collaboration.”
Though the region has calmed down considerably and Bombino was able to return, his life had changed drastically thanks to filmographer Ron Wyman’s encouragement that led to the recording of 2011’s Agadez, a nod to his home city. Eponymous with its region in Niger, Agadez is pure Saharan glory and caught the ear of the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach, who helped Bombino produce his second effort, Nomad. Both harken back to his Tuareg roots and act as a reminder of home during his lengthy stints away.
The guitarist has been touring all over the world, inspiring a sense of altruism and peacefulness in every locale, yet for all the changes in scenery it is the similarities that are the most striking to Bombino. On a recent trip to this year’s New Orleans’ Jazz and Heritage Festival, he was able to reunite with fellow Saharan Tinariwen as well as sit in with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band.
“I think that people everywhere are much more alike than they are different,” Bombino tells the Appeal. “In New Orleans, one thing I noticed that is similar to Tuareg culture is that people will just gather around and start a party whenever anyone begins to play. This reminds of growing up in Agadez. You will see the same thing happening there.”
Bombino is a huge fan of San Francisco, having played numerous times in the city and beyond, including last year’s Outside Lands. He doesn’t have a preference for format of show but he does have a particular soft spot for the Bay Area and California’s geography.
“I love to play in San Francisco. The people are very friendly and have always supported me since I began playing there in 2011,” Bombino says. “California for me is maybe the most beautiful part of America, except for the desert of New Mexico that reminds me so much of home.”
Catch Bombino this Sunday at the Independent. Purchase tickets here.