Reviewed on Thursday January 9 (image by Jamie Williams)
Enter the Sydney Festival Spiegeltent to the rhythmic percussion and hypnotic vocals of Bombino and you may as well be in a camp in Saharan West Africa.
Omara ‘Bombino’ Moctar is energised and wholly immersed in his music. When he first addresses us it’s with a shy “Ça va?” that gives the impression he is both humble and grateful to the crowd which has gatheredto hear the desert rock he has become famous for.
His music alone is mesmerising, but the story behind the man makes it even more so. Bombino was given his first guitar by a visiting relative while living as a refugee in Algeria and it fast became his passion. When not studying under renowned Tuareg guitarist Haja Bebe, the teenage Moctar spent his time watching videos of Jimi Hendrix and Mark Knopfler, addicted to the freedom and expression in their music.
These influences shine strongly through as the set picks up pace and the Tuareg-style loops blend into electric rock riffs. Looking around at the swaying crowd, it’s obvious this is not a band that commandsa niche audience, but whose talent and energy have won over fans from a diverse range of ages and backgrounds.
The Tuareg rebellion of 2007, during which two of Moctar’s fellow musicians were executed, forced him again to flee his home country, Niger. Filmmaker Ron Wyman, who had stumbled across a cassette of Bombino while making a feature documentary about the music of the rebellions, sought Moctar out while he was in exile and convinced him to record his first album, Agadez.
Here, the band plays songs from across both Agadez and their recent album, Nomad, recorded with Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys. The set ends with a few killer instrumental tracks and a huge response from the audience. The image of a red, windy Saharan landscape under a starry sky that Bombino conjures up jars with the sight of Hyde Park on this balmy evening as we filter out of the Spiegeltent.
Moctar has remarked that his guitar is not a weapon, but rather “a hammer with which to help build the house of the Tuareg people”. As he continues his world tour, performing to a fan base of millions, he takes his story and the Tuareg spirit with him.