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Interview with Bombino:'By re-imagining traditions, my goal is to be music ambassador for the Tuareg people around the world'

Bombino chatted with us just a few days before his Plissken Festival appearance
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Just a few days before his appearance in Plissken Festival @ Techopolis in Athens (27.06.2019), we had the change to talk to Tuareg guitarist and songwriter Bombino. He is an artist that built his sound on his country's traditional music, making him well known in the music cycles for the last decade or so. Desert landscapes and rhythm improvisations stand in the center of his work.

Bombino is looking forward to his visit in Greece while he described us his philosophy, his music and his thoughts about immigration and Africa.


Xenofon Karampalis: It's your first visit in Greece as a recording artist.
We're really looking forward for your concert. Have you been in our country before? What can one expect from your live performance?

Bombino: No I don't believe I have ever been to Greece before. I am really looking forward to the experience! I really like to discover new cities, new countries, new people. It is part of the fun of traveling that helps one endure all the hardships of traveling.

X.K.: In your previous record you found a link between Tuareg music and Reggae, Tuareggae. Is this a result of the way you work in the studio, due to the chemistry between you and your band?

B.: Ya Tuareggae was a style created with my band while we were touring over a period of years. It was not something that we created in the studio, but rather something we experimented with on-stage, over time through many tours, little by little. By the time we recorded Azel we had enough material in that style that was well developed to put it on an album, so this was the first time the style was recorded.

X.K.: Influences from other cultures play a central role in your music. Do you see yourself exploring Mediterranean music elements or maybe Celtic music elements?

B.: Perhaps, I can never say for sure what will inspire new music for me in the future. I am not really familiar with those styles of music currently.

X.K.: Guitar is a symbol of revolution and resistance in many cultures. The likes of Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger used it to spread messages of unity and equality. That idea stays always at the back of your mind when composing music?

B.: Sometimes I think about it. However, usually I am not thinking of the guitar as a symbol but rather as part of me and my ability to express myself - what is in my heart and spirit. When I am feeling captured by the energy of music it's like an extension of my body.


X.K.: Nowadays commercial music lacks music incentives. Music became business oriented and artists fall into formulaic traps. Being commercially successful makes it harder to keep your music vision intact?

B.: This is not something that I really consider a problem for me, personally. I am sure this is a problem for other artists, but generally I think that is a problem for pop artists and not for those that play styles rooted in traditional music like me.

X.K.: Globalisation sometimes affects long standing cultures in a negative way. I can think of many parts of Greece that lost their identity to attract visitors. However in your case, your music - which is partly based on tradition - draws people to your country. Could re-imagining music help preserve history and old customs?

B.: I hope that it can, because this is basically the whole philosophy and goal of my career! Beyond simply playing the music that I love and earning a living to support my family, my goal in music is to be an ambassador for the Tuareg people and for Niger around the world. Furthermore I want to do so with my style of music, which as you say is re-imagining traditions. Through this music I hope to inspire people to learn more about my people and my country and perhaps even to be so inspired as to visit and bring tourism back to Niger and more specifically to Agadez where I am from.

X.K.: You plan to built a Tuareg music school and community centre in Agadez which will improve the standard of living. Are you considering any cultural/music festivals as well? The 'Festival In The Desert' in Mali that stopped a few years ago was a great example of sharing and exchanging pieces of culture.

B.: I would love to be involved in a festival in Agadez or anywhere in the region. Of course that would be a very big project and would probably need to involve many big sponsors, international organizations and the Niger government. But if I can play a role in making that a reality, it would be a dream to me.


X.K.: The Refugee crisis is an issue that affects us all. You can relate to this more than other musicians, since you lived in exile during the Tuareg rebellion of the early 1990s. Could you see any solution to this suffering and people can actually live peacefully in their birthplace?

B.: I think it is possible, anything is possible, but it will take a long time and very enormous effort and dedication. Many people are leaving Africa because there is nothing there for them - no work, no money, no education, no hope for the future. So this problem will not end until these things are available. Until then there will always be a strong desire of many to leave and go to Europe to seek a better life for themselves and their families. So we need development in Africa, we need investment in schools, in business and infrastructure and in health care. These are major challenges that cannot be accomplished quickly, perhaps even not in one generation.

X.K.: While touring you travel a lot around the globe. But when at home in Niger, do you still embrace the nomad lifestyle?

B.: Somewhat, yes, I love to go out to the desert for example. But when I am home, I am just trying to enjoy time with my family, either at our house in Niamey or in Agadez.

X.K.: You talk a lot about the beauty of the desert and how music finds is true purpose there. Here in Greece traditional music is influenced by the freedom that comes by the vastness of the sea. Do you find similarities between the desert and the sea in terms of inspiration?

B.: Yes, I think so. I think the desert is like a dry sea. One is dry, one is wet, but both can provoke this feeling of awe and of freedom, so I see them as similar in that sense.

Thank you for your time. See you in Greece!

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