Live Review: Bombino @ Southbank Centre, London

Live Review: Bombino

at the Purcell Room, Southbank Centre, London | October 25th, 2013


Bombino is the stage nickname of acclaimed Tuareg blues guitarist Omara Moctar. Hailing from Niger, the musician put out a record earlier this year that was produced by Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys untitled “Nomad”. The influence of Auerbach’s fuzz-rock can be heard clearly on the album and has lead to US and European concert tours and major festival appearances over this year. With the recent success and popularity of other bands like Tinariwen and Tamikrest, the future is promising for more Tuareg musicians like Bombino.

The first thing to notice as I took my seat was the huge variation of people in the audience. Sitting around me were several shaggy-haired university students, a French photographer and there were even some (probably) retired couples around the room. It goes to show how the music we were seeing was not aimed at a commercial ‘target audience’. When making the record, I imagine they weren’t expecting this range of success.

With no support act, Bombino took to the stage and began with a slow burning, acoustic guitar driven first fifteen minutes. The guitar playing was still noticeably good (as could be derived from the cheering through solo sections) but the seated players weren’t quite the explosion of energy I had expected. It was a more brooding and spiritual start than I had thought. Furthermore, the group would play a two minute eastern styled ‘drone-jam’ (think the last five minutes of “Whipping Post” from The Allman BrothersAt Fillmore East” live album) in between almost every song, which kept the audience drawn in and the atmosphere almost daydream-like.

Then, about mid-set, Bombino switched to an electric guitar while the percussionist now became a rhythm guitar player. It was around this point where the band really knocked things into gear, playing tracks from “Nomad” to which the crowd were clearly and vocally responsive. “Ça va?” he asked, “Excellente!” we replied. Within ten minutes most of the room were up on their feet, the speed and attack of the band increasing with every song. I have to admit, I did feel a little sorry for the poor one or two elderly members of the audience who were still seated in the front section while it rapidly became the center of the ‘drunk-uni-student’ crowd. Never mind, after a second they were up and grooving themselves.

The crowd were really roaring now and you could see the band were feeling it. The body language and style of their playing became ferocious as they hammered through the standout tracks from “Nomad” in last quarter of the show. After a wild final frenzy of desert-blues, Bombino smiled with a loud “Merci!”, before embracing his bandmates and then all leaving the stage together. We all knew he wasn’t finished yet though…

The mass cheering continued and before you could look away the band were flying out again. The sense of excitement and energy for both us and the players was palpable in the room as the drummer restarted. “Fast! Fast! Fast!” were the instructions from Bombino to the band as the encore roared away into a dark and driving ska jam. All too soon the music exploded into a finish and the exhausted band took a final bow before lights up. This was the end. As the players exited the stage, Bombino himself stuck around for a while after the show for photos and autographs. Hendrix of the Sahara has arrived.

By Joe Burns