It felt like springtime in the Sahara on Tuesday night at the Larimer Lounge, as Tuareg guitarist Omara “Bombino” Moctar brought his music to a Denver audience for the first time. The Tuareg are a nomadic people of the Sahara Desert who have struggled to retain independence and rights in post-colonial Northern Africa. Bombino hails from Agadez in Niger, but has been gaining attention in the U.S. and worldwide in the wake of his critically acclaimed 2013 release “Nomad,” produced by the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach.
With its drinker-friendly bar, low ceilings and sticker-covered bathroom, Larimer Lounge was an interesting place to see what many would define, and possibly dismiss, as “world music.” But there is so much rock and roll at the heart of Bombino’s music that he was completely at home on the Larimer’s tiny stage. Opening with a short, seated set of acoustic songs, Bombino gently slid the audience into the hypnotic rhythms and melodies of the “Desert Blues” music he plays. Growing up in exile in Libya, Bombino was exposed to Western rock and roll music such as Jimi Hendrix and the guitar work of Dire Strait’s Mark Knopfler. Along with these noted influences, his guitar playing evoked a wide range of inspirations from David Gilmour to Jerry Garcia to African guitar legend Ali Farka Toure, while simultaneously remaining original and fresh.
After his brief acoustic set, Bombino and his capable band literally bounced into an ecstatic electric set of trance-like jams. Bombino sings in the Tuareg language of Tamashek, and appears to speak little or no English, but language was no barrier in communicating with the engaged, swaying crowd at the Larimer. The musician’s enormous, engaging smile spoke volumes about how he felt to be playing in Denver. His voice, alternating between reedy and deeply soulful, is an excellent accompaniment to his delicate but intense guitar work. His trance-like, rhythmic sound was supported by the excellent playing of gloved bassist Youba Dia, and his dexterous band followed him through impossibly fast changes.
From Colorado, Bombino and his band head to Coachella, where his desert trance sound will be a perfect fit.
Amy McGrath is a Denver-based writer and regular contributor to Reverb.