Massachusetts Daily Collegian

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A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Bombino headlines Iron Horse

Bombino didn’t need to know the native tongue to get the Iron Horse Music Hall on its feet Monday night.

Brian Canova/Flickr

The scene was a lot like the parties Omara “Bombino” Moctar used to play – groovy desert wedding parties – in his home country of Niger in northern Africa. He took the stage wearing a shiny, linen-like purple suit, looking like Jimi Hendrix or Prince. Moctar discovered Hendrix’s music in a trip to northern Africa.

Such a scene came as a surprise early in the night, with middle-aged and older couples rimmed around the venue at two-top and four-top tables as the cocktail waitress whisked through the room.

Reflecting the words of the tape played to introduce Bombino onto stage, he had evidently chosen the guitar and songs of protest over the gun. Moctar eased into his performance when he took the stage armed only with an acoustic guitar. Alongside fellow Tuareg electric guitarist Ibrahim Atchinguil and percussionist Kawissan Mohamed, Moctar began his show with meditative acoustic melodies.

But what began as a sedate dinner party for couples progressed into a dance party as the night went on. Moctar plugged in and led an entranced audience on a hard grooving blues jam à la Hendrix and the legendary Malian blues guitarist Ali Farka Touré.  By the end of the show, a dance circle had formed at the front of the stage. Concertgoers danced to the center of the hall, and the inspired crowd was compelled to sway to Bombino’s desert blues.

The West found Moctar when American filmmaker Steve Wyman went to Africa to film a documentary. Filming brought Wyman to Agadez, an arid desert city in northern Niger where he first heard Bombino perform. From there, Wyman shifted the focus of his documentary and began following Moctar with his band.

Following filming Wyman brought Moctar to a Cambridge, Mass. recording studio where he began to record tracks for his album “Agadez,” which was released in April of this year.

Moctar grew up amidst violent political unrest as multiple waves of protest and social upheaval shook northern Africa. When Moctar was 12 years old, the first Tuareg rebellion drove his family to Algeria, another nation historically versed in popular rebellion.

As fans filled the dance floor, Moctar loosened from his soft-spoken shell. The musician exchanged grins with step-in bassist Ed Lucie, who also provided the bass line on “Agadez.” Moctar showed the crowd his jerky moves and massaged howling blues rifts into an awakened crowd.

Lucie lingered onstage after the show as the band made its way across the dining room and down the basement staircase.

“He never makes a set list. Some of you may have noticed, I didn’t know half the songs we played tonight,” said Lucie.

In Africa, Bombino didn’t play with a bassist. That addition came when Wyman brought Bombino to the Cambridge recording studio where Lucie was added to the trio. Lucie travelled with them when they returned to Africa to record the bulk of the final track list.

Lucie joked about the language barrier while on the road with the band and playfully imitated himself to friends.

Bombino’s debut album, “Agadez,” topped the iTunes World Music chart at #1 earlier this year, and broke Billboard’s Top 10 in the World Music category.

Brian Canova can be reached at [email protected].

Correction: An incorrect version of this story was placed online. The artist’s last name is Moctar.

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