The Spiegeltent, January 9
First-night hiccoughs saw scores of people stuck in a sluggish and increasingly grumpy queue at the Festival Village box-office as show-time approached. Thankfully Bombino provided de-stressing therapy by playing the first third of his set acoustically. But then music has been an important therapy not just in the life of Omara “Bombino” Moctar, but in that of his often put-upon people, the Saharan nomads known as Tuaregs.
Born in Niger, Bombino blended Saharan, West African and rock elements. You could also hear something like the blues buried in this music, like a well deep beneath the desert sands.
Initially he played acoustic guitar against just bass and percussion, often generating lilting and supple six-to-the-bar rhythms. His singing, meanwhile, was laid-back and soft-focused, which remained the case even when electric guitars and a drum-kit upped the sonic stakes.
The cruising grooves remained, initially, too, so all that had changed was the surface texture, and the fact that Bombino, now standing rather than sitting, began to fleck the music with tasty little solos. Very gradually the tempos and the energy levels rose, until the band, completed by rhythm guitarist Mohamed Atchinguel, bassist Moussa Albade and drummer Corey Wilhelm, needed to do no more than sit on a groove for the music to be complete.
Still Bombino’s singing just flowed and eddied across this surge of sound as if unconcerned by the tumult, until a piece with a reggae rhythm emerged, and suddenly both melody and singing were more urgent, and the band had metamorphosed once again.
That these were ultimately good rather than great players was exemplified by some slightly ragged endings. Publicity pegging Bombino with Jimi Hendrix was nonsense, his playing being attractive and engaging, but neither especially fiery nor imaginative. A highlight of the music was the way that Wilhelm rendered the rhythms on a drum-kit without these descending into basic rock or funk.