This article originally appeared on Noisey.
A new album by Tuareg-by-way-of-Niger guitarist, Omara Moctar, known worldwide simply as “Bombino,” is always a cause for celebration. As one of the rare musicians—“world” or otherwise—appreciated by crowds local and abroad and by fellow musicians, Bombino makes a variation of the desert blues, invented by the Tuareg, that draws equally from classic rock and reggae. The result is a wild yet accessible traversing of 60 years of rock and blues history, often within the span of a single song. He’s played with most contemporary African superstars, is beloved by Western classic rock dinosaurs, and has had his last two albums, Nomad (2013) and Azel (2016), produced by Black Keys Dude and That Guy From Dirty Projectors respectively, so his indie bona fides are well in order too.
Bombino’s upcoming album, Deran (meaning, loosely translated from Tamasheq, “Best Wishes” and out May 18 on Partisan Records), was produced by Bombino’s manager, Eric Herman. Bombino says, “His approach was very open, though, so everyone was contributing in their way. We decided to record in Casablanca because I wanted to return to Africa to record but we also needed to find a good studio.” They settled on Studio HIBA, a studio in Morocco owned by king Mohammed VI, who, all discussions of monarchy aside, has been particularly supportive of music in Africa and the Middle East.
The new album is arguably a slightly more rocking affair than previous efforts. Asked if there a conscious intent to go harder, Bombino demurs, “I do not think about these things very much. I know my manager who produced this album has spent a lot of time thinking about this on my behalf. For me this album is like a culmination of everything that came before it—there are rock songs, there are softer, acoustic songs, there are Tuareggae songs. It has a balance that I am proud of. But this was not a goal I had in my mind when going into the studio. I always like to just play and see what happens.”
While indebted to his childhood influences (Jimi Hendrix, Mark Knopfler, who, because of their popularity in West Africa in the 70s and 80s—the apocryphal story being that there was a flood of cheap/bootleg Hendrix/Dire Straits cassettes in the region—are part of the creation mythology of many notable guitarists in and around the Sahel.), Bombino distinct style has expanded. As one of the world’s best guitarists, his fluidity is on display. Bombino says, in regards to his process, “Usually my songs will begin with a riff on the guitar. I love to play without direction when I am alone, just improvising, or even jamming with friends. This improvisation is where ideas for songs often come. From the riff I will start to hear the rhythm guitar chords that accompany it, and from there I will start to hear a melody. Usually the song will unveil itself to me like this, and I simply need to keep my mind open and listen for it.”
Premiering today is the first single off of Deran, “Tehigren.” Tehigren starts as a plaintive reggae groove before lurching into overdrive around the two and a half minute mark, ending with a singular guitar freak-out. It sounds like no one but Bombino and it is glorious. The song, he says, is one he “started to write about two years ago, more or less, while on tour with the band. It is in the style of what we call 'Tuareggae' which is an even mix of Tuareg traditional melody and guitar with reggae drums and bass. In this case we even have the rhythm guitar chops of reggae. This song quickly became a hit with the audience so we played it more and more often in the set. Now, it is not even released but it is already a hit in Niger. Everyone knows it there already. The song is about my own struggle with being on the road all the time, away from my home. It is a nostalgic song, remembering the beauty of my home. For this reason it has always brought me joy to play when I am far from Niger. But of course to play it for my people in my home country, this is an exceptional feeling.”