Arts Desk

Dueling African Gigs: Bombino and Nettle

D.C. fans of African sounds have a tough choice to make tonight. Tuareg guitarist Omara Bombino Moctar and his band bring their desert psychedelia to the Black Cat with local pan-African openers Sahel, while Nettle, an international band including two Moroccans plus Jace Clayton (aka DJ Rupture), Andy Moor from The Ex, and others, will be at the “Africa is Not a Country” party at the Marrakech Lounge along with several DJs spinning sounds from across the motherland.  Nettle is celebrating the release of its new album, El Resplandor: The Shining in Dubai. Bombino and Clayton discussed their projects via email.

Thirty-one-year-old Bombino was born near Agadez, Niger, and with his family, he fled at age 12 to Algeria from the violence of the Tuareg uprising against Niger. In Algeria, he acquired a guitar for the first time. When peace temporarily returned to Niger in 1997, Bombino and his family moved back, and he continued playing, inspired in part by Tuareg band Tinariwen.  Early in 2007 Bombino and his band were recorded for the 2009 Sublime Frequencies release, Group Bombino – Guitars from Agadez, Vol. 2. But later that year, in the midst of a second Tuareg rebellion, the Niger military would ban the guitar and kill two of Bombino’s bandmembers.  Again the guitarist fled, this time to Burkina Faso, before returning to now-calmer Niger in 2010.

Bombino now lives in Niamey, Niger, with his wife and daughter, but travels often to Agadez. Bombino says he currently performs at weddings and other Tuareg functions “all the time when I am at home and in Agadez.” He's also working toward having the Tuareg language of Tamashek taught in schools. It’s “slow to be honest," he writes. "It takes a lot of effort, time and patience to get something like this moving in Niger. But I will continue to champion this issue and we'll make progress little by little.” On his new album, Agadez, his fingerwork melds his region’s droning axe sound with influences from Jimi Hendrix to John Lee Hooker. One benefit of international touring, Bombino writes, has been meeting other six-string players. “I love Vieux Farka Toure, and this was the first year I got to play with him and see him live in concert," Bombino writes. "I also got to see Dave Matthews with Tim Reynolds which was really cool. Finally, I really enjoyed seeing Pete Townshend play when we did Jools Holland last month in London.”

Nettle’s new album is the soundtrack for an imaginary remake of Stanley Kubrick's The Shining set in a luxury hotel in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. The band includes Clayton on synths and laptop, Moroccan Abdelhak Rahal on violin, the Scottish Jennifer Jones on cello, Moroccan Khalid Bennaji on guembri, American Brent Arnold on cello, the English Andy Moor on guitar, and Canada's Lindsay Cuff on vocals. Together, they blend electronic beats and avante-garde noise with traditional North African folksong and percussion playing.  Clayton says Nettle “grew out of my longstanding interest in Maghrebi music. In 2002 I moved to Barcelona, a city with a strong Moroccan musical community.  Slowly I became involved with it, and a few years later I was working regularly with a violinist, Abdelhak Rahal.   Nettle existed before I met Abdel, but it was primarily a solo project. With him I decided to turn it into a group, to make my involvement with Moroccan music more of a collaborative work.”

While Nettle’s mostly instrumental sound has its out-there aspects, Clayton says it can reach fans of more traditional sounds. “Nettle played a free concert in Tangiers recently and it was well received! We make an effort to connect. There are avant sounds, sure, but, for example in Tangiers, Lindsay learned to sing a Berber song.  When she opened her mouth and Berber words came out , the audience was floored, so happy. We approach everything with a lot of respect, and a lot of emphasis on translation.”  The album has also gotten some attention in Dubai.   Clayton excitedly notes that there have been “several interviews and some interest in bringing us over to perform it in 2012!! I hope it happens.”

“Africa is Not a Country”  features Nettle along with  DJ sets by Bent and Mothershiester showcasing anthems from Mozambique, South Africa, Kenya, Congo,Nigeria, Madagascar, Ghana, and North Africa—plus a glut of "pirated" Kenyan Pop mp3s that dj Bent found online. Free. Nettle plays at 9 p.m. at the Marrakech Lounge, 1817 Columbia Rd NW.

Bombino and band with opener Sahel perform at 9 at the Black Cat, 1811 14th St NW.  $20. (202) 667-4490.

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