ACL Review: Bombino

Desert rocker goes to town

The Tuareg culture’s musical fusion of West African rhythms, traditional melodies, and classic rock riffs has made serious inroads to stateside six-string worship through envoys Terakaft and Tinariwen. No Tuareg has earned as high a profile as Bombino, and his Friday show in the ACL tent – the guitarist’s 100th performance this year – demonstrated why.

Photo by John Anderson

A natural crowd-pleaser, the erstwhile Omara Moctar knows how to play to an American audience raised on rock & roll. Alternating between reggae one-drops and more traditional Afrobeat grooves, Bombino and his backing trio followed a simple formula: Set up the rhythm, lay down a few vocals, then go to town.

Wielding a crisp, fingerpicking attack that recalls the great Albert Collins, Bombino cut through the din of rhythm guitar, throbbing bass, and busy kit work like a machete through underbrush, occasionally ignoring the underlying beat and just blazing away. Though his American heroes – B.B. King, John Lee Hooker, Carlos Santana, Jimi Hendrix – loom large over his peers, Bombino is particularly blatant in his influences, borrowing King’s vibrato, Hooker’s drive, and Hendrix’s flash.

By the time the second guitarist engaged the crowd in a chant that provided a rhythm track, Bombino began pulling out all the stops: wah-wah, hammer-ons, feedback, and aggressively circular riffs that burrowed themselves into your brainstem and stayed there. Finishing with the most rock-oriented song of his repertoire, an ultra-bluesy mover with brisk rhythms and old-fashioned rock swagger, he and band left the riveted crowd roaring. Danceable grooves plus flashy guitars make music suitable for shaking groove things and igniting guitar geekery – the perfect date music.

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Bombino, ACL Fest 2016, B.B. King, John Lee Hooker, Carlos Santana, Jimi Hendrix, Albert Collins

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