What are you getting? “Nomad,” 40 minutes of music by an African guitarist who’s called Bombino. It’s protein-rich: great for parties (you will come to be bored by friends asking “What is that?”), a lifesaver on rainy mornings when you don’t want to get out of bed, a good candidate for serious listening, a caffeine hit for long sessions of work when your friends are getting buzzed on Adderall, and, so far from least, an essential ingredient for ecstatic couplings at midnight.
That’s a lot of goodness: cheaper than Starbucks, not addictive like Adderall, and even more useful for a marriage than counseling with Esther Perel.
What’s so great? First the writing: it’s all hooks. Hooks upon hooks until you are locked in a groove. Then it’s Omara “Bombino” Moctar’s guitar. It slithers. It buzzes. It’s round like Knopfler, spacy like Hendrix, concise like Ali Farka Toure. And then the drums. There are a lot of them, and they range from handclaps to crisp little circles. And, finally, great sound. “Nomad” was produced by Dan Auerbach, who is half of The Black Keys, a band that proves again and again that when you’re mega-talented, a guitarist and a drummer are all you need.
Hearing is believing. Crank the volume. See if this doesn’t haul you out of your chair:
That’s not a one-off. This song also makes me nuts:
The back story: Omara Moctar was born in 1980. He’s a Tuareg. (Volkswagen named its off-road SUV after this tribe of desert nomads in Niger.) The Tuareg, who are descended from the Berbers of North Africa, are fiercely independent. Once they fought against colonialism. Now, although they’re Muslims, they resist Islamic fundamentalism. (“These invaders from Mali are not welcome in any of our lands,” Moctar says. “We reject their philosophies and their idea of Islam.”)
In the 1990s, civil war wracked Niger. The Tuaregs were declared enemies of the state. Moctar and his family fled to Algeria. Relatives brought guitars, and Moctar learned to play. Fighting subsided. Moctar’s family returned to Niger. But in 2007, when he’d launched a band, there was a second Taureg rebellion and a harsher government response. Two of Moctar’s musicians were killed; Moctar fled to Burkina Faso.
On his first, under-the-radar America tour, Moctar met Dan Auerbach. They had no common language, but a short session of music made it clear they could collaborate.
Auerbach: “He would triple his guitar leads, and he’d do it note-for-note, first take. It sounds massive. His guitar’s running through fuzz pedals, with double drummers playing at the same time — lots of percussion.”
Translation: This is desert music, but it’s been processed in a Nashville studio. Not to trick it up, but to make it stronger. And it is. There are no English lyrics; because they’re in a language you don’t speak, the words have power only as sounds. Which I prefer.
Maybe more music will come along that delivers both novelty and creativity. I’m not holding my breath. I see “Nomad” as I once saw SMOD -– as the most exciting World music of the year.
At some point — like in 2015 — I expect Bombino to get a Grammy nomination for Best New Artist. Well, he won’t be new to you. Or to all the people you’re going to give this to when it’s really Christmas.
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