Smile Politely

Group Bombino grows on you

Group Bombino‘s Guitars from Agadez Vol. 2 is the second release from Sublime Frequencies to showcase a Tuareg guitar group from Agadez, Niger. Agadez is a major city of the Tuareg people, whose traditional geographic region straddles Niger, Mali, and southern Algeria. Group Bombino is lead by guitarist Oumara Al Moctor, who goes by Bombino. At age 28, Bombino is considered by many to be the premier Tuareg guitarist. The Tuareg guitar group sound combines music of the region, such as Algerian rai, Malian blues, and rock, and turns it into a heady, rhythmic, psychedelic mix. The first Guitars from Agadez featured Group Inerane.

Side one of Guitars from Agadez Vol. 2 is pulled from Group Bombino’s recorded archives. The songs on side one feature “dry guitar” music, which in Tuareg terms refers to songs played with acoustic guitars. Hand claps and backing vocals accentuate the songs. A rhythm guitar is used almost like a percussion instrument, much like how it was used in early American country and western. The first cut, “Tenere,” begins and ends with the sounds of cattle grunting as they are herded. “Tenere” showcases Bombino’s talent as a lead guitarist with the intricacy of his playing. “Imuhar,” the second song, takes on a more somber, hushed tone. Although there’s no lyric sheet, it’s obvious based on Bombino’s vocal delivery that he is taking on a serious subject in a reflective manner. The liveliness picks up again with “Kamoutalia.” The rhythm guitarists hold steady with the main riff while Bombino himself weaves in and out. It’s not dissimilar to some of Ben Chasney’s guitar work with Six Organs of Admittance. The last cut on side one, “Amidinine,” is the most Western sounding. It’s slightly jaunty with a hint of the standard blues scale. The hand claps really make this cut — although the claps are keeping a relatively simple time signature, it really drives the song.

I must admit I was a little underwhelmed with the Tuareg dry guitar sound on first listen. I went in expecting the mind-melting, trance-inducing electric guitar skronk that I loved so much from Group Inerane. Fortunately, the dry guitar sound grew on me with repeated listens. I picked up on aspects like the subtle complexities of the guitar work and how the hand claps and rhythm guitar created a solid percussive unit. I’m looking forward to future listens to side one.

Side two features the electrically amplified Group Bombino recorded live in Agadez. The instrumentation is a little different than the dry guitar style — two electric guitars, electric bass, a drum kit, and two hand-clapping backing vocalists. It’s extremely lively and celebratory. Putting it in a western context, comparisons with the guitar work can be made to Zoot Horn Rollo (early Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band), Robert Quine (Richard Hell and the Voidoids, Lou Reed) and raga rock solos like “8 Miles High” by the Byrds or “Run Run Run” by the Velvet Underground. In each song, there’s a special moment when all instruments lock into a pulse and Bombino’s guitar rises above the mix in a soaring lead. The last cut, “Eronafene Tihoussayene,” is the most magical. The guitars have a gnarly, snarling tone and blast off from the get-go. Rowdy, spirited “ay-ly-ly-ly-ly” calls from the audience bleed in with the sound. If it sounds this great on record, I can’t imagine what it would be like in person.

This album was put together by Hisham Mayet, who has compiled many other North African and Middle Eastern releases for Sublime Frequencies, an excellent resource for hearing music from around the world that is difficult to come by. Currently, Guitars from Agadez is only available on LP and as a download, though the label tends to re-release their LPs as CDs around a year later.


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