Bombino and band left Niger to climb the steps of the Cedar Cultural Center’s stage on September 13th, kicking off their current US tour 2023. Their first three songs featured founder, Omara “Bombino” Moctar, on acoustic guitar and later lead guitar, fellow Nigerien Kawissan Mohamed on rhythm guitar, Youba Dia, from Mauritania, but now lives in Belgium on djembe and later bass, and on the drum set, USian Corey Wilhelm.
Hundreds of people fill the floor, Kendal, house manager, said they’d sold 309 tickets in presale and another 50 at the door. The venue holds 400 for a seated performance and 645 for a standing show.
Wednesday evening, there is no banter from the band, they move from one song to another, all simple, yet evocative numbers. I’m reminded of my childhood when I’d swing on the playground swings, pumping my legs over and over in an effort to flip around the top bar of the swing set, believing it was possible. It wasn’t, I never went over the top, but the pure pleasure of swinging, the rhythmic trance I entered into felt the same as the sensation delivered by Bombino’s music Wednesday evening.
Then as if to shake up the audience, Bombino switches to electric guitar and Dia picks up a third guitar. Now the energy ramps up, the crowd shows its appreciation with applause and hollers. At least two-thirds of the audience are standing and swaying or bouncing to the music.
If you could plop the country of Niger on top of the United States, its capital, Niamey, would be near Albuquerque, New Mexico, and its northern tip close to Minneapolis, even reaching over near Milwaukee, Wisconsin. However, 80% of the country is a part of the arid Sahara Desert.
The music that comes out of Niger aligns with the music of the nomadic peoples of West Africa. Bombino and band draw on the rhythms and sounds of the Tuareg people.
Bombino attempts to say a few words, but they come out a mixture of French and English. He apologizes, blaming their traveling schedule and jet lag, “Hier (yesterday) we were in Paris.”
He is fluent in Tamasheq, the language of Touaregs, as well as the local Hausa language and French, the language of Niger’s colonizers, plus Arabic. That his fifth language is still rudimentary warrants no defense.
His bandmate, Youba Dia, wearing a turban, steps up to provide some commentary in English, but mostly, this show is all about the music, the rhythms, and the guitar licks, which have earned them multiple Grammys.
As if the audience is their baby and they are rocking us in a cradle, song after song is played. Every time the band segues to a new song, the crowd roars. On either side of the audience, someone calls out repeatedly, “Bombino!! Bombino!”
We are treated to two hours of the main act on stage. Even the gray-haired fans stay for the last song. The band troupes down to the merch table to converse and take selfies with concert-goers, reluctant to leave the venue. A rewarding evening and auspicious start to their US tour.