Agadez is a town in the north of Niger. When the off-and-on Tuareg rebellion in that region of North Africa surged again in 2007, the town became a conflict zone. The young guitarist/singer/songwriter Bombino had his first band up and running at the time, but when two members were killed, he fled to Burkina Faso. These experiences—rebellious guitar music, sudden outbursts of violence, flight, nomadism and separation from home and loved ones—are all part and parcel of the Tuareg rock experience. This music forged by the iconic Tuareg band Tinariwen has become a genre, and with this release, Bombino becomes its most exciting new practitioner.
The album is named for Agadez because, when the fighting ended in 2010, Bombino was invited to perform a concert there, right in front of the Great Mosque, to signal a new era of peace and reclamation. When you listen to the ten, rocking, honey sweet songs on this album, you quickly realize that peace is much more on this artist’s mind than any fight. The music is dreamlike, warmer and more tuneful than just about any Tuareg rock release I’ve heard. The opener “Ahoulaguine Akaline (I Greed My Country)” gleams like a polished gem. Bombino’s guitar tone is crystalline, his attack precise, and most importantly, his sense of melody irresistible.
“Tar Hani (My Love)” is perhaps the hardest rocking electric number, built around a grinding blues-like riff, and graced with brilliantly concise guitar phrasing that culminates in a cycling hypnotic riff. Bombino doesn’t show off on guitar; that’s not the Tuareg rock aesthetic. But it is consistently impressive how much he can say with a few well chosen and well played notes. “Tenere (The Desert, My Home)” showcases the acoustic side of Bombino’s guitar artistry, in a song about missing home. From the deep rock trance of “Assalam Felawan (Peace to You)” to ululating ecstasy of “Iyat Idounia Ayasahen,” to the gentle desert lullabye “Tebsakh Dalet (A Green Acacia),” every song hits home. This may be the most accessible and enchanting release in this genre yet.
Bombino is certainly a better guitarist than singer, but what his voice lacks in range and fullness it makes up in sincerity and wistful, sometimes whispering, charm. This session has a great intimacy about it. Whether he’s lost in an eddy or reverie or rocking the wide open spaces, Bombino makes music with an open heart, and it’s impossible not to be drawn into its magical inner spaces.
Hear Banning Eyre's All Things Considered review of Agadez here.