Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Bombino [extended]

  • Guitars From Agadez Vol. 2 [Sublime Frequencies, 2009] A-
  • Agadez [Cumbancha, 2011] A-
  • Nomad [Nonesuch, 2013] A-
  • Azel [Nonesuch, 2016] **
  • Deran [Partisan, 2018] ***

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Consumer Guide Reviews:

Group Bombino: Guitars From Agadez Vol. 2 [Sublime Frequencies, 2009]
Like their pals in Group Inerane, with whom they share equipment and personnel as the occasion demands, Oumara AlMoctar's band are big fans of Tinariwen and Ali Farka Touré, only humbler, rougher, more local. Here, AlMoctar's mastery of "dry guitar," which becomes almost a pretty thing in his hands, is showcased on the four private recordings that lead into a ferocious five-track live set. Souvenir of a war zone now cut off by landmines from the rest of Niger, this music would speak unmistakably of human resilience even if it was the kind of thing outsiders merely appreciate. But in fact it's lovely and grooveful in terms anyone with open ears and heart can hear. A-

Agadez [Cumbancha, 2011]
Omara Moctar--the "Al" has fallen into disuse as he internationalizes--remains easily the loveliest of the Tuareg guitarists to come our way, and in fact this album was begun in the Cambridge, Massachusetts, home studio of a filmmaker who documented the Tuaregs' battle for autonomy in Niger. He's absorbed many Western guitarists into a style few will hear as Western without a cheat sheet, and sings quietly, like he's thinking about it. Relative to most Tuareg music, the result is pretty tame. But its directness and calm take on spiritual weight when you learn that Bombino lost two members of his band during the most recent phase of the now quiescent and perhaps permanently resolved war. Cumbancha's representatives to the world congress tend polite, but as a corollary the label considers it good manners to offer expanded explanation, documentation, and visualization online. Avail yourself. A-

Nomad [Nonesuch, 2013]
Producer Dan Auerbach joins in only as the bassist on "Niamey Jam." But with an American bassist on half the tracks and a German drummer doubling Bombino's own guy half the time too, this is the hardest-rocking of the hard-traveling Tuareg guitarist's three distinct albums. It does sweeten as it proceeds, as befits the "nostalgia" two first-ever translations cite--a nostalgia anybody whose homeland is a war zone has earned. The lyrics are very simple. My favorite, in its entirety: "This era/The era of young girls/Their way of loving/Works in a different way/Prayers to you, my brothers/Better to be sensitive/For our girls/Those of this era." A-

Azel [Nonesuch, 2016]
The best thing about his Tuareggae is that sometimes you can't tell reggae is what it is ("Iyat Ninhay/Jaguar [A Great Desert I Saw]," "Akhar Zaman [This Moment]") **

Deran [Partisan, 2018]
I'm sorry for his sake that Nonesuch dropped the most crossed-over desert guitarist, but glad for ours that he's put aside reggae feel-good and brought what he knows best back home ("Deran Deran Alkheir," "Tehigren") ***

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