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Time Zone Traveling Tuareg Style with Bombino

Every year, Slingshot aimes to bring a distinctive international music element to the Athens, ranging from Japanese punk bands to Arabian synth pop acts. This year’s international highlight is West African Tuareg style guitarist, Bombino, who has been sweeping the nations airwaves and digital landscape with his new record Azel produced by David Longstreth of the Dirty Projectors. Slingshot director Kai Riedl passed a few quick questions over to Bombino to dig a little deeper into the musician’s lens on the music world and his place in it.

Can you say a few sentences on your earliest contact with the guitar. Was playing it encouraged or did you strike out on your own?

When I started playing the guitar I was a refugee in Algeria and, besides the fact that there was nothing much else to do, the guitar came to represent a certain escape for me.  The music of the guitar would pull me in until I was not even aware of the world around me – only the music.  It would transport me into another place.  I fell in love with the guitar very quickly and decided to dedicate my life to it.  At this time I was about twelve years old, maybe eleven, but I have not let that feeling go since those early days of discovering the guitar – the magic pull of the guitar still has me under it’s spell.

Many of us know how West African music has been making it’s way into American pop heavily over the last ten years, and I’m curious about the other direction. What current music has been influencing you from this side of the ocean? 

Well, of course there is reggae music which is a style I have begun to experiement with in my own music.  You can hear examples of this on my new album, on the songs ‘Iwaranagh’ and ‘Timtar’.  We call this ‘Tuareggae’ music because it is a hybrid of Tuareg traditional style and reggae rhythm.  I also like Western rock and funk music a lot and bring elements of these styles into my music.  Part of what I talk about in Azel is that the world is evolving and people are getting closer together, so it is only natural that our music would also come together from different sides of the Atlantic ocean.
 
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It is becoming more and more common for musicians from other countries to work with producers in Europe and America. How did the collaboration with David Longstreth of the Dirty Projectors come into being? And what was different about making this record compared to the one before.

I was not involved in the planning of these studio sessions with Dave – that is something my manager arranged.  I trust my manager to know what I will like and what I will not like, so when he told me he found a very good producer for the new album, I knew that this would be a good match.  I did not know Dave or his band’s music, but when I met him I could tell immediately that we would have a good rapport working together.

As for the difference between this album and the album with Dan [Auerbach] — first, I must say both are great producers and great guys.  I feel very fortunate that I was able to work with both of them.  The biggest difference, I would say, is in their energy.  Dan is very hot. He would come in to the room and everyone knew that he was the boss.  With Dave things were more relaxed.  His energy was more cool.  Instead of directing us this way and that he would sit back and watch us and then after some time he would give his opinion and his ideas.  This is a difference in their personalities, but also I think when we recorded Nomad we were in need of someone like Dan to take control because it was our first time in a studio.  This time, with Dave, we felt more confident in ourselves and in the music, so it was better for him to be more calm and patient in his role.

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The audiences in different parts of the world are obviously different. Do you find people are afraid to dance in America? It feels like it sometimes!

I think here in America maybe people are a bit timid at first but by the end of the concert most people are dancing.  This is the same kind of thing in Europe and Australia.  People will stand and sway and listen to the music, then start to dance a bit, and then all of a sudden everyone is dancing.  In Niger people know the music and the repertoire much better than here, of course, so they will get excited and involved in the concert earlier.

I’m curious what Bombino puts on his headphones to tune out the rest of the world. What is your go to bliss music!?

I love traditional Tuareg music – the traditional ngoni or the little one-string fiddle with calabash, I can listen to this over and over for hours.  It calms my spirit.