Omara “Bombino” Moctar performs a few concerts in Canada in September 2012, and you'll find those tour dates here. And if you read on you'll find out what the smoking guitarist from Niger had to say back in April about the civic unrest in Mali.
Of course, a great deal has changed since the spring, including terrible oppression of Malian musicians, so we also wanted to draw attention to an event happening soon in New York City: Musicians for Mali, a benefit concert on Sept. 22, 2012. It features a great lineup of Malian and American artists in honour of Malian Independence Day, and hopes to raise awareness and funds for refugees.
Born as a Touareg, Bombino’s people are nomadic and call the Sahara desert home. He plays music filled with the grit and longing of the harsh Saharan landscape. Bombino first picked up a guitar at the age of 12, inspired by the desert blues of Tinariwen, Ali Farka Touré and American guitar gods like Jimi Hendrix and John Lee Hooker.
Because of civil unrest between the Touareg and the oppressive governments of Mali and Niger, Bombino spent a large portion of his childhood living in exile in Algeria. At the original time of writing (April, 2012) there had recently been another Touareg rebellion, coupled with a coup in Mali and worsened by the return of mercenaries from Libya carrying dangerous weapons. The region is very unstable. We asked Bombino, who is in the midst of a North American tour, a few questions about the current uprising.
Q: What is the impact of the coup in Mali and the latest Touareg uprising on you and your people in Niger?
A: For the moment, the biggest impact is that there are a lot of refugees from Mali coming into Niger. Houses in Agadez that normally have four or five people are now holding 12 people. We do not have a lot of resources ourselves so the situation is not sustainable for very long. So we are worried about this. It is really a shame, very sad. Mali was a positive example of democracy for countries like Niger and now people will lose some faith in democracy in our region.
Q: Obviously there are international borders between the countries of Mali, Niger, Libya and Algeria, but your people, the Touareg, are nomadic. Can you elaborate on how this uprising in Mali could affect the whole region?
A: Before there were internationally recognized borders, the different people lived together. We are in the year 2012 now. There are always going to be changes and now changes are happening faster than they used to. I’m not really sure what is behind all of this trouble in Mali. But it is an example of how our lives have been made more difficult with modernity. Years ago, the different people would be able to share, to have open exchanges with each other. Now with the national borders it is harder and people are not comfortable in their borders.
Q: What do you think people should know about the conflict that’s not in the mainstream news? What story is not being told?
A: What is not being said about the conflict is that the Touareg have not just a conflict with the government of Mali, but with other groups in the region. The Touareg are enemies of al-Qaeda of the Maghreb, enemies of Islamic fascism. We have our own interests but they are not in line with these people, and the media outside Africa likes to present a situation where the Touareg rebels are working with any group to advance their aims. This is not the case. This is why Timbuktu was taken one day by the Touareg and then the very next day it was taken over by an Islamic group. There are many more layers to the conflict than people see outside of Africa.
Q: What would you like the international response to be, to help return peace to the region?
A: The countries that are immediately affected must lead the effort. We must hold each other up and not depend on the richest countries to lead. In general we must look back to how people used to live in peace and learn lessons from the peaceful periods of history. We must be able to look back as we look forwards and understand that there was value in how people used to live in this region. We have the tools ourselves to solve these conflicts but there must be the will of the people to do that and the politicians must take responsibility for what is happening with their neighbors because tomorrow it could come to their front door.
Q: Would you some day like to see an autonomous Touareg state – as some rebels seem to be fighting for?
A: If this is a solution that avoids constant rebellions in the “four countries” [Mali, Niger, Algeria, Libya] – whatever pushes us towards peace I will support.
Q: As a musician, how do you react to the violence?
A: As a musician who is concerned with promoting peace, violence is something that pushes you to work even harder than before to get out your message. It makes me sad and angry and motivated to do what I can take to influence people to follow a peaceful path and demand peace from the rest of the world.
Q: What should the role of musicians be in regard to the conflict?
A: It’s a big role because wherever there are conflicts the human spirit is suffering and needs soothing. Music is the great soother of souls.
Q: What is your response to the reports of music being replaced by prayer readings on radio stations in Kidal?
A: That’s something I can’t understand. I’m a Muslim. I like to hear prayers. But if it’s not time to pray in the day then there should be music on the radio. Radio is entertainment, not just a tool for power. People need entertainment in their lives to stay in good spirit, to have peace in their own selves.
Q: How important is it for you to incorporate your political views into your music?
A: For me it’s very important. I became a musician in very stressful political circumstances and I have always used music as my voice in the conflicts and as a way to keep my soul healthy and pure. So there is no possibility to remove politics from my music. I am not a pop star. I will sing about love for a woman but just as often I will sign about love for my brother and for my people and for my country.
Q: How do you feel about returning to Canada for the upcoming concerts?
A: I have been looking forward to returning to Canada since I last left Canada! I love Canada and all the Canadian people I have met have been wonderful to me. That is Canada's reputation in Africa – very generous and kind people. It was beautiful for me to see that Canadians have really earned this reputation. We had a great time in Canada last year and I know that will continue this year and, God willing, for many years to come.
Devil’s music, from the Mississippi Delta to northern Mali
The heritage of Timbuktu in jeopardy (The Current)
Bombino at the Cabaret du Mile End
Tinariwen evolves from cassettes to The Colbert Report
Kiran Ahluwalia, Tinariwen and Bono visit desert festival
Blues in Strange Places: Mali Blues
Le Monde Pour La Paix - JeConte & The Mali Allstars