photo by Ron Wyman

photo by Ron Wyman

Musician, Omara “Bombino” Moctar (Goumar Almoctar), has a pretty incredible background. One of 17 siblings, he was born and raised in Niger among the nomadic Tuareg people, whose ancestry is traced to to the North African Berbers. The Tuareg, also known as the Kel Tamasheq, are warriors as well as travelers and traders, fighting against colonialism and strict Islamic rule.

After a severe drought in the early 1980s killed off their livestock and forced the Tuareg people to leave the countryside and move to cities or to Algeria or Libya, these displaced communities organized uprisings against local governments that were ignoring them. Omara was forced to flee his homeland when violent rebellion raged, as people fought for their rights and preservation of their culture. The local musicians played a vital role in telling the story of their plight through song, in a style known as ishoumar (taken from the French “chomeurs,” meaning “unemployed”). He taught himself to play guitar, inspired by this music of his people. In addition to developing a passion for preserving his Tuareg heritage, he would also develop into a formidable guitarist and songwriter.

The early 1990s saw the downfall of the military regime in Niger, which was replaced by democratically elected officials and political parties, including the Tuareg party, in which Omara became involved. At the same time, he honed his guitar talents, eventually becoming a highly skilled guitar player and in high demand as a local legend. In 2006, while in the U.S. with the band Tidawt, he performed with Keith Richards and Charlie Watts on the Stones’ “Hey Negrita,” for the 2008 album “Stone’s World: The Rolling Stones Project Volume 2.”

A second Tuareg rebellion in 2007, in which Omara and his friends took part, claimed the life of two of his musicians, leading him to escape to Burkina Faso. In 2009, filmmaker Ron Wyman found him living there in exile, and decided to feature him in his film about the Tuareg people, “Agadez, the Music and the Rebellion.” The album was recorded in Cambridge, MA at his home studio. By 2010, the conflict was over in Niger, and the Tuareg were allowed to return home.

Omara and Wyman were able to travel to Agadez to complete work on the album and film. This culminated in a first-ever concert at the Grand Mosque to celebrate the end of the fighting.

This biography reads like an entire lifetime; in fact, Omara is just thirty years old now. He brings to his music the amazing strength and perseverance of his people, and their struggle for recognition, basic rights, and a lasting peace. He is an activist as well as a musician, and advocates for the teaching of the Tuareg culture to the children, including the native language of Tamasheq. He conveys his message through his music, which is strong and immensely soulful, combining traditional Berber music with rock and roll and songs about peace, heritage and empowerment.

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