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Meditative and earthy, Niger-based musician Bombino conjures the expansiveness of the Sahara landscape with his dazzling guitar work and entrancing vocals. Championed by the Rolling Stones before he'd even released an album, he embraced the nomadic nature of his Tuareg roots and throughout the 2010s recorded a series of critically lauded albums in various locations around the world including Nashville, Niger, New York, and Morocco. Infusing his mesmeric desert blues with hints of psychedelia and American traditions, Bombino continued to build his reputation with albums like Nomad and Deran, the latter of which earned him a 2019 Grammy nomination. After a 2020 live release, he returned to studio work with 2023's impassioned, politically driven Sahel. Born in 1980 as Goumar Almoctar in the nomadic Tuareg encampment Tidene, Bombino came of age during much political upheaval, fleeing with his family to Algeria by 1990 and returning to northern Niger's largest city, Agadez, seven years later, when he took on music professionally. After years of playing with local bands, legend caught up to him, as he traveled to California in 2006 on tour with Tidawt and recorded a desert blues take on the Rolling Stones classic "Hey Negrita" alongside Keith Richards and Charlie Watts. The following year, filmmaker Hisham Mayet captured Bombino and his electric band for the recording Music from Niger: Guitars from Agadez, Vol. 2, released in 2009 on Sublime Frequencies. As the political landscape heated up in Niger again in 2007, Bombino fled to Burkina Faso, where in 2009 he was tracked down by another filmmaker, Ron Wyman, who wanted to help the artist make a proper record. A year later, Bombino made a safe return to his native land, performing a celebratory concert at the Grand Mosque, and with Wyman's help, completing the record Agadez. Released in 2011, the album showcased Bombino's captivating vocals and trance-like guitar playing and was cited as one of NPR's best discoveries of the year. For his second album, 2013's Nomad, Bombino traveled to Nashville to record with the Black Keys' Dan Auerbach. The result was an energetic set full of grit and funky elegance that meshed Tuareg rhythms with elements of Delta blues, trance, and hints of psychedelia. It also played like more of a collaboration between producer and artist, bearing Auerbach's stamp as much Bombino's. His next release was more representative of his signature style. Recorded with his quintet in upstate New York, Azel was produced by David Longstreth of the indie band Dirty Projectors. Bombino's first released for the Partisan label, the album was released in April 2016, placing his gifts as a composer, player, and singer at the front of the mix. Two years later the entrancing Deran built on Bombino's rising fame and earning him a Grammy Award nomination for Best World Music Album, making him the artist from his country to receive that honor. Long known for his incendiary live shows, Bombino offered up his first concert album, Live in Amsterdam, in 2020. It also served as something of a stopgap while he prepared his follow-up to the breakout Deran. Working in Casablanca with Welsh producer David Wrench, Bombino and his band crafted a rangy set of songs that commented on the plights of the Tuareg people and threats to their culture. Sahel was released by Partisan in 2023.
© Chrysta Cherrie & Steve Leggett /TiVo


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