by Elsa Sichrovsky
The world outside Niger has come to recognize and enjoy Nigerien Tuareg music because of a musician from Niger, called Omara “Bombino” Moctar. Bombino, a member of the Tuareg Ifoghas tribe, was born in 1980 in Tidene, Niger. The Tuareg, nomadic Berbers who travel in the Sahara Desert in North Africa, have had frequent conflicts with national governments in their recent history. In 1990, Bombino and his family fled to Algeria during one such Tuareg rebellion. During this time, visiting relatives left behind a guitar, and Bombino started teaching himself how to play by listening to pirated cassettes of Ali Farka Touré, Dire Straits and Jimi Hendrix.
The guitar became Bombino’s passion, and he later studied with renowned Tuareg guitarist Haja Bebe. Bebe invited him to join his band, where he gained the nickname “Bombino”, from the Italian word “bambino”, which means ‘little child’. In 1997, Bombino returned to Agadez, near his hometown, and began life as a professional musician.
Due to another Tuareg uprising in 2007, Bombino lived in exile in Burkina Faso. While there, filmmaker Ron Wyman, who had heard a cassette recording of Bombino’s music, tracked him down and helped him to record his album Agadez, released in April 2011 which debuted at the top of the iTunes World Chart.
Bombino’s unique style of singing in his native language of Tamasheq while combining blues and rock with traditional Tuareg musical elements has brought him worldwide recognition. In May of this year, ahead of the release of his new album Deran, the music blog Noisey called Bombino, “the World’s Best Guitarist™.” Bombino’s music deals with the struggles of the Tuareg people and the hardships of their desert life, as well as the encroachment of modernization on their traditional culture. You can find more information about Bombino’s music and worldwide tours at www.bombinomusic.com
Bombino strives to use his success and platform as an international celebrity to promote education as the way to preserve Tuareg culture: “We fought for our rights, but we have seen that guns are not the solution. We need to change our system. Our children must go to school and learn about their Tuareg identity.” He believes that it is important for children to learn Niger’s diverse languages, which represent Niger’s multicultural society: the Tuareg language of Tamasheq, the local Haoussa language as well as French and Arabic. Bombino himself speaks all four of these languages fluently!
Wells Bring Hope helps children in Niger to have access to clean water, which enables young people to be able to attend school and start a small business. When essential needs like clean food and water are provided and children gain access to education, the youth of Niger will have an opportunity to break out of the cycle of poverty. Who knows how many Nigerien children could be talented young musicians in the making? The world needs more people like Bombino, who can sing of their nation’s beauty to the world. Donate to Wells Bring Hope, and make it possible for more children to reach their full potential!