Not many people can say they’ve played songs for famed actress and United Nations high commissioner for refugees ambassador, Angelina Jolie, in the desert. Then again, there’s a lot that Nigerien-born Bombino has done that most of us can’t q
Deemed one of the world’s best guitarists by Noisey and others, his story of perseverance and finding solace in music is rivaled by few renowned musicians.
Omara Moctar, nicknamed Bombino as a child by Tuareg guitarist Haja Bebe, was a refugee at age 11 following a rebellion in his homeland. It was in neighboring Algeria that Bombino taught himself to play on a discarded guitar. He and friends obsessed over any footage of Jimi Hendrix and traded tapes they could get their hands on.
The burgeoning star managed to make a living as a professional musician for several years until tensions flared and another rebellion was at hand. Tuareg guitar was banned and Bombino found himself labeled a subversive. Two of his bandmates were executed and Bombino was forced into exile for three years.
Unbeknownst to him, scrappy recordings of his sounds were circulating, and people wanted to find Bombino. Jolie did, hence the desert encounter where Bombino was her guide on a six-day trip through northern Niger.
In 2011, his debut album, “Agadez,” wowed the world and caught the attention of Black Keys frontman Dan Auerbach who produced a fast-follow up, the trancey, blues-infused “Nomad.” From there, Bombino opened for singer Robert Plant and dazzled the devout at the legendary Newport Folk Festival as well as cranking out his latest “Dehran,” which snagged a Grammy nod for best world music album.
Despite the success, Bombino remains focused on making things right at home. In a widely circulated news release, he simply states, “We fought for our rights, but we have seen that guns are not the solution. We need to change our system. Our children must go to school and learn about their Tuareg identity.”
Bombino plays the Altria Stage on Friday, Oct 11, from 9-10 p.m. and on Saturday, Oct. 12, at the Community Foundation Stage Saturday from 3:15-4:15 p.m. and the Dominion Energy Dance Pavilion from 8:20-9:30 p.m.Back to the Richmond Folk Festival