Bombino was born on Jan. 1, 1980 in an encampment of the nomadic Tuareg people in the middle of the Sahara Desert, as far away from the record industry as it gets. As a 10 year old, he along with other members of his family had to flee across the border into Algeria as civil war engulfed their native country of Niger.
During this time, he picked up an old guitar and taught himself to play by plucking out notes in imitation of the Tuareg folk melodies he heard around him. In the ’90s Bombino’s family safely returned to Niger, where he became a good enough guitar player to join an established band, and acquired the nickname “Bombino” — a variation of the Italian word for “little child” — because he was the smallest and youngest member of the band. Since then, Bombino has been steadily gaining fans first in the Sahara and then worldwide with his compelling blend of traditional Saharan music and a lead guitar style that has been compared to Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix, and John Lee Hooker. According to Bambino’s bio on his label Cumbancha’s website, “his electrifying jams capture the spirit of resistance and rebellion.” He joined us for our 5GB series before his show at DC9.
What was the first gig you ever went to?
The first show that I saw was in 1995 when the Peace Corps was here in Niger, they organized a big concert featuring Tidawt and some other local groups. It was the first time I saw a real concert, and as far as I know that was the first real concert of its kind in Agadez. It was very eye-opening and it helped me a lot to inspire my concerts today.
What is the best gig that you ever played/performed at?
That is hard to say because there are several that I think of. The one that sticks out in my mind is the concert we played last year in Tel Aviv. There was such a large crowd and they were so deeply into the music, as if they had been born and raised in our traditions. But it was the first time many of them had heard this kind of music. It was a huge inspiration for me.
What is the best gig you have ever been to?
This is also really hard to say. There are so many and its not easy to try to pick one. I would have to say my favorite show that I can remember is the show that JuJu did at WOMEX (Justin Adams and Juldeh Camara). It was such a cool mix of styles and it blended so well. And it rocked! I had such a good time just dancing like a madman that night. But also I should mention the first time I saw Tinariwen — Ibarhim from Tinariwen is my biggest musical inspiration because he has shown other Tuareg musicians that it is possible to find success for our music and culture abroad and open the eyes of the rest of the world to Tuareg music.
Gig you would most like to play?
I think I would like to play at the World Cup or the Olympics or something very big like that. Our mission is to get as many fans as we can from all over the world and to have them discover Niger, Agadez, and the Tuareg culture through our music. So I want as big an audience as I can get!
What would be the lineup for your dream gig?
I think my perfect bill would be to play with Ali Farka Toure, Jimi Hendrix, and Dire Straits. That is the bill of my dreams. Ali and Jimi were my biggest heroes growing up, so I always dreamed of playing with them. If I could chose any place to do that concert, it would be right here in Niger, in Agadez, so that my whole community could enjoy it.
Catch Bombino tomorrow at DC9, D.C..