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Interview with Bombino "I envied Jimi Hendrix's freedom"

Interview with Bombino  - "I envied Jimi Hendrix's freedom" Photo: Ron Wyman / Zero Gravity Films

His youth as a member of the people of Tuareg was marked by political conflicts. Bombino found his way out with music which today takes him around the world.

As a member of the Tuareg, musician Goumar Almoctar had an eventful upbringing. Through times of war and peace his music was a constant companion. Performing under the name Bombino, he tours with his band and plays a mix of traditional Tuareg music and western rock and blues. We caught up with him to talk about his fascinating life: Why he loves guitars, his thoughts to the conflict and how he teamed up with Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys.

artistxite: How did your origin and your eventful youth influence you as an artist?

Bombino: Well, it was my experience as a youth in exile in Algeria that inspired me to become a musician. I would listen to music from the West and watch videos of Jimi Hendrix and Dire Straits and I was so envious of their freedom and joy, I wanted to experience that for myself. I was never interested in school, unfortunately, so for me music was a very obvious path to find the freedom I was looking for. For me it is the perfect way to spread joy and important messages.

artistxite: You’re mixing traditional Tuareg music with western rock elements – how did you develop this way of making music?

Bombino: This was nothing I did intentionally. I think for any musician, their music is what comes naturally from their experience and their inspiration that can not be described. For me, I grew up in the Tuareg music tradition but also admiring rock and blues artists, so it is not a surprise that my music would combine those two traditions.

artistxite: Your father didn’t want you to play in a band – can you tell us a little bit about your first steps as a musician?

Photo: Ron Wyman / Zero Gravity Films

Bombino: I started my career in music when I returned from Algeria in the early 1990s. I was a young teenager but I was determined and the great Niger musician Haja Bebe invited me into his band. I spent many years developing my skills in his band and learning the trade of professional music. In my early twenties I was able to go out on my own and form Group Bombino.

artistxite: In 2007 there was another outbreak of conflict in the Tuareg region in Niger. Were you ever directly involved in the conflict such that you personally had to take up arms?

Bombino: I was never fighting anyone! In 2007 I was in Burkina Faso fleeing the war in Niger. It is important to know that I have never picked up a gun to fight in any of these rebellions. I do not believe in that and I never did.

artistxite: The government of Niger prohibited the Tuareg from playing the guitar, which became a symbol of the rebellion. Has that connected you to your instrument even more?

Bombino: Yes, I think so. Playing music was my way of contributing to the Tuareg cause. For me it is important to provide support and inspiration to my people through my music, whether we are in times of war or peace. I do not see my guitar as a gun but rather as a hammer with which to help build the house of the Tuareg people.

artistxite: Is music a way for you to come to terms with what you experienced?

Bombino: Yes, music is great medicine no matter what is bothering you. I have always looked to my guitar as a companion through difficult and lonely times. I used to even sleep with my guitar beside me in my bed! It is my best friend, you can say.

artistxite: Recently you made record with Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys. How did this come about? How was this experience for you?

Photo: Ron Wyman / Zero Gravity Films

Bombino: Dan heard my music and saw videos of me playing on YouTube and he reached out to my manager and invited us to Nashville to record with him. This was a very big experience for us! We had never recorded in a real studio before, and this was one of the best in the world, with one of the world's finest producers! It was really a magical experience, very enjoyable. Everyone was so cool with each other and the music came out very quickly and naturally. Dan was really a genius in the studio.

artistxite: How has your working and touring in the United States influenced your way of making music?

Bombino: I don't think it has changed the way I make my music. I am always writing new songs on the road, but this could happen anywhere. I think there must be some effects on me and my style but they are not conscious. If I could say it has effected me like this and like that, that would mean that I know the new influences and they would lose their power on me.

artistxite: In which ways has your life changed now that you’re touring across the world?

Bombino: Wow, my life has changed in many ways. You can say I went from the life of a nomad in the Sahara to the life of a global nomad. I am away from home much more than before and this is very difficult for me. But also I am having wonderful new experiences all over the world and I am making money to support my family back home, so those are very good things. My children will have great opportunities in their lives that I did not have.

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