Home. Where the heart is. For Bombino and most other Tuareg, there's only one place that can be. In recent years, the rest of the world has largely written off that home as a hot and savage wasteland, a bolt hole for religious extremists and terrorists, a geopolitical video nasty with little to offer apart from the oil, gold and phosphates that lie beneath its soil. But Bombino would like us to take a closer look and think again. How to celebrate that desert home, how to protect it, develop it, unify it, respect it and, above all, never forget it, are the salient themes of his brand new album Deran. They're dressed up in 10 songs of rare maturity and power that mark a turning point in the career of a guitarist and songwriter who was born in the shade of an acacia tree about 80 miles north west of the ancient town of Agadez, and has since risen to forefront of the new Tuareg guitar generation. It's a turning back the source of everything that makes Bombino who he is.
"My mission for this album was always to get closer to Africa," he says. Not surprising then that the decision was made to record Deran as close as possible to his native Niger in the southern Sahara. The ideal venue emerged in the shape of Studio Hiba, a top flight recording facility owned by King Mohammed VI located in a fairly drab industrial suburb of Casablanca in Morocco. There Bombino and his steady long-term band – fellow Tuareg Illias Mohammed on guitar and vocals, American Corey Wilhelm on drums and percussion and the Mauritanian (living in Belgium) Youba Dia on bass – slept, ate and made music in blissful isolation. Their circle was widened by Moroccan percussionist Hassan Krifa, and by Bombino's cousins Anana ag Haroun (lead singer of the Brussels-based Tuareg band Kel Assouf), and Toulou Kiki (singer and star of the film Timbuktu), who dropped in to add some ‘gang' vocals. After Casablanca, the tapes flew to Boston to be embellished by Sudanese friend and keyboardist Mohammed Araki.
Whatever emerged at the end of the process had to be fresh and powerful. Yes. Bombino and crew have conjured up a roving mystery tour of contemporary Saharan sounds, from the raw diesel rock of the opener "Imajghane" (‘The Tuareg'), to the camel gait lope of "Tenesse" (‘Idleness'), the tender lilt of "Midiwan" ('My Friends'') and the ‘Tuareggae' style that is Bombino's unique contribution to desert music on the song "Tehigren." All the desert is there, harsh and gentle, tragic and playful. But more than anything Deran had to be honest and true. The pressure to be the authentic voice of his culture and his home on the world stage weighs heavy on Bombino. "You have to begin with the question of who you are," he says. "You're a Tuareg. With all the travels, all the experience of world, it's as if I'm making myself remember where I come from. Where I come from will always be my home, my memory."
Simple, raw, true, that was the brief. "We wanted him to take a deliberate step out of the shadow of the celebrity producer," says Bombino's manager, and Deran producer, Eric Herman. "Apart from that, the idea was to take this raw, spontaneous, unadulterated approach to capturing his songs."