Album Review: Bombino – Sahel (Partisan Records)

by | Jan 30, 2024 | Album Reviews, Blog

In the sun-drenched expanse of the Sahel, where the sands whisper tales of resilience and the winds carry echoes of a tumultuous history, Omara “Bombino” Moctar emerges once again as a beacon of the Tuareg spirit on his latest album, Sahel. Rising from an unprecedented stillness in Bombino’s typically nomadic life, this collection of songs offers a panoramic view of the African region. Experience it for yourself on Saturday, February 3 when Bombino returns to Romania with his Control Club debut.

Born in the Tuareg camp of Tidene and shaped in the crucible of exile, Bombino’s journey is a saga of survival, resistance, and the thirst for freedom. His music has always been woven from the threads of traditional Tuareg melodies and the vibrant hues of modern rhythms, serving as a bridge connecting the past, present, and future of a people who refuse to be confined by borders, be they physical or metaphysical.

For Bombino, the pandemic’s enforced pause was a renaissance, offering the chance to reconnect with his roots and his family in Niamey, Niger. This introspective period infuses Sahel with a personal essence, elevating it to a profound exploration of the artist’s soul. The album marks a significant continuation of Bombino’s legacy, following the trailblazing Deran(2018), which made him the first Grammy-nominated artist from the country. His previous works, like Agadez (2011), Nomad(2013)and Azel(2016)had already established him as a pivotal figure in the genre of desert blues, drawing comparisons to artists like Tinariwen and Ali Farka Touré.

The ten songs that make Sahel navigate a spectrum of themes, echoing the Tuareg people’s plight, the pangs of lost love, and the youthful follies that define the universal human experience. The album’s opening track, Tazidert, is a soulful invocation of patience and love, a gentle reminder of the virtues that fortify the Tuareg spirit against the relentless adversities of the desert. The track, bathed in a blend of psychedelic and progressive rock, showcases Bombino’s command over his strings. His guitar weaves an intricate narrative, its notes resonating with the arid beauty of the Sahara and the depth of collective memory.

In the album’s heart lies Si Chilan, a poignant reflection on the pain of exile. Its melody, steeped in the history of armed uprisings and the quest for autonomy, sings of the struggles against forgetting and violence. Bombino’s voice, soft and potent, navigates through the complexities of history and emotion, delivering a narrative that is as heartfelt as it is profound (“Having no choice, my brothers, you accepted to live in these painful conditions/You fled bad conditions to find yourself in injustice”).

As the album unfolds, tracks like Ayes Sachen hint at subtle yet profound changes, offering glimpses into the potential future paths of Bombino’s music. Alwan greets listeners with a mellower tone that diverges from Bombino’s typically robust sound. The extended, winding solos of Darfuq then epitomize his ability to captivate and communicate through his instrument without words. At the same time, lead single Aitma erupts with a fiery guitar, rallying a call-to-arms in the native Tamasheq and transcending geographical and political barriers (“Let’s defend our people because we are the same regardless of our geographical position”).

Bombino’s lyrics, rooted in the specificities of the Tuareg experience, resonate with universal themes of peace, resilience, and love. Nik Sant Awanha closes the album as a clarion call for unity and resilience. “The desert is our land, our culture is our identity, only union can allow us to defend them,” he sings.

Bombino is able to transform Sahel into a diverse odyssey in collaboration with David Wrench (Frank Ocean, The xx, Caribou). Through an admiration for Bombino’s unique craftsmanship, the astute Welsh producer brings out the refined style and complex history embedded in the guitarist’s music. The traditional desert blues elements are there but with an innate breathability is added to its instrumentation. The result is a sound steeped in trance-like tradition with a more contemporary drive in the name of accessibility.

Sahel stands as a reminder that music is a bridge between worlds, a unifying force in a divided world. In Bombino’s hands, the guitar is not just an instrument; it’s a weapon of peace, a tool of transformation, and a bridge to a future where the desert blooms with the flowers of enduring harmony.

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