Group Bombino
Guitars from Agadez, Vol. 2


3.5
great

Review

by Nick Greer EMERITUS
March 4th, 2009 | 17 replies | 14,318 views


Release Date: 2009 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Admirable blend of American and Tuareg folk music traditions with a "virtuostic" lead guitar performance.

Group Bombino - Guitars from Agadez, Vol. 2

In the course of studying 19th and 20th century Western music as well as studying the folk traditions of indigenous cultures, I developed a distaste for exoticism. For me, non-Western musical ideas were rarely given a smooth integration into Western instrumentation, resulting in music that sounded copied and pasted. In a particularly notable example, Verdi's opera Aida, is a piece that appropriates Chinese anhemitonic pentatonic melodies to color the opera's east meets west plot. These "exotic" fragments stick out like a sore thumb and are usually just surface melodies that serve to suggest that certain themes or character relations have a Chinese quality. They are musical hangnails that deserve to be gracelessly plucked from the material. However, these musical affronts are not just Whitey holding everybody down. Most non-Western appropriations of Western musical ideas have a similarly campy feel (think of the J Pop and Bollywood traditions). Creating deft blends of distinct cultural traditions requires composers and performers with a strong knowledge of all traditions involved and not an armchair view of the appropriated ideas.

Group Bombino are in a unique ethnomusicological situation as contemporary Tuareg musicians. Led by guitarist Omara Mochtar (Bombino), this group represents an ethnic and cultural group that is nomadic, but geographically unique to the West Saharan regions of Mali and Niger. Their sound reflects this paradox as well; their style is a mix of wandering acoustic North African melodies not too distant from more tonal-sounding maqam, and riff-based electric rock and blues ideas imported from the West. A lot of idiomatic blues guitar slides and hammers are used as vehicles to decorate the traditional melodic content. Group Bombino even make open chord voicings, a staple of the American blues, rock, and acoustic guitar tradition, sound like drone instrumental tones (which are typically attributed to Indian music but make notable appearances throughout music influenced by Islamic culture, particularly in itinerant cultures that spread from Europe to Hindustani India). Never is this blend of east meets west more apparent but also plausible and enjoyable than in the second half of the album when Bombino moves away from the unplugged "dry guitar" style of the first half of the album and incorporates his full ensemble. The second half of the album is infused with shades of rock subgenres like psychedelic, early prog, and funk that makes the musical diffusion an even richer aural experience. Group Bombino are a fully realized synergy of two different musical styles that never falls trap to exoticism or inauthenticity.

While much can be said about Bombino's favorable balance of tradition and expression, there is more to Guitars of Agadez, Vol. 2 than its cultural weave. Something that will hopefully strike listeners right off the bat is that the playing on this album is energetic and ecstatic. Mochtar plays with a spirited fleet-fingered quality that makes the songs revolve and rush along, despite the fact that the song sections and chord progressions are relatively static. Bombino just jams off of a few core ideas, but the enthusiasm in the playing keeps the album spirited and engaging throughout its runtime. Though his performance, which some have even lauded as virtuostic, is certainly the cornerstone of the album's character, the accompanying musicians are have a vital if understated contribution to the mix. The percussionists complement Bombino's light touch on the guitar with hand claps and hand drums beats that capture a galloping beat or a subtle African rhythmic phase. On the second half of the album when a Western drummer comes into the mix, the tight, snare-heavy approach invokes reggae's trebly and upbeat accents. The vocals are also incredibly enjoyable. They mostly sound like repetitive phrases with folk motives as melodies but have that pastoral openness and vibrato that connotes the spirit of folk music, whether Tuareg or American, so well.

Group Bombino's Guitars from Agadez, vol. 2 is not going to top any year-end lists or change the way people think about music (unless some ridiculous M.I.A.-esque character uses Tuareg traditions to make annoying pop songs), but it's a wonderful album in its simplicity and exoticism-defying charm. It's an album that should be taken as matter of factly as possible and enjoyed with no reservations and hopefully less intellectually than I've treated it here.



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user ratings (4)
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3.5
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Comments:Add a Comment 
taylormemer
March 4th 2009



4913 Comments


Looks interesting.

tarethere
March 4th 2009



184 Comments


hot, new, peruvian pan-flute band coverage: part 1

poweroftheweez
March 4th 2009



1290 Comments


sounds cool, but not really my cup of apple juice.

Waior
March 4th 2009



11425 Comments


Easily the best review I've read in a while.

gaslightanthem
March 4th 2009



5209 Comments


Awesome.

thebhoy
Emeritus
March 5th 2009



4459 Comments


sweet, I should check this out. Would it be anything like Ali Farka Toure? At least in terms of guitar?

Also, this review reminded me of a documentary I was watching on TV about Yo-Yo Ma and this orchestra trying to mix Western and Middle Eastern musical stylings and instrumentation. Essentially it was incredibly difficult because the instruments from the Middle East were tuned on a completely different scale and frequency and all that jazz. Except for that one Middle Eastern instrument that's like an upright fiddle, it's tuned like a violin apparently, and it also sounds incredibly beautiful.

DFelon204409
Emeritus
March 5th 2009



3995 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

That seems like more of a logistical problem rather than a creative / taste issue, though it's always interesting to draw such comparisons. What is the documentary called?

thebhoy
Emeritus
March 6th 2009



4459 Comments


yeah, it was a logistical problem, that's what I meant. The violinists were so confused cause they had to play in a scale that was completely alien to them. I can't remember what it was called. It was like Yo-Yo Ma and the something sea road orchestra. Gah, the name of the orchestra was the name of some middle easter travel route that went from like Baghdad to the Baltic or Mediterreanean Sea or something like that.

thebhoy
Emeritus
March 12th 2009



4459 Comments


Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Orchestra... I'm pretty sure that was the name of it.

natey
March 12th 2009



4170 Comments


Great review.

DFelon204409
Emeritus
March 15th 2009



3995 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

More content on worship and tribute: http://worshipandtributemedia.blogspot.com/2009/03/group-bombino-guitars-from-agadez-vol-2.html

gaslightanthem
March 15th 2009



5209 Comments


did deekmedia get taken down?

was listening to some of this the other day, sounds pretty great.

can't wait to get the whole album

DFelon204409
Emeritus
March 15th 2009



3995 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Deek is always switching sites. I'll look into it. That's the best site imo.

gaslightanthem
March 15th 2009



5209 Comments


Pretty much, that & bolachas, if you find where he has relocated let me know ya?

NOTINTHEFACE
March 18th 2009



1653 Comments


This is cool, but I find the bass terribly annoying. Still an enjoyable album, though.

Athom
Staff Reviewer
March 23rd 2009



17195 Comments


this is pretty cool

feav233
January 2nd 2010



1411 Comments


this sounds pretty interesting, nice review



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