Words by Nigel Williamson
There’s a growing trend for West African acts to court global popularity by employing Anglo-American producers to give them a rock’n’roll makeover. Rokia Traoré’s latest is produced by PJ Harvey’s long-time collaborator John Parrish, and now the Touareg guitarist Omara ‘Bombino’ Moctar has travelled to Nashville to record with Dan Auerbach of the American indie blues duo Black Keys.
The band recently won four awards at the 2013 Grammies, including one for Auerbach as producer of the year. He’s given a robust, clattering blues-rock sound to Nomad that should achieve the desired effect of appealing to the indie crowd who read MOJO and Uncut rather than Songlines. That Auerbach has pushed Bombino further in the direction of mainstream rock than Justin Adams ever did with Tinariwen or Chris Eckman of the Walkabouts with Tamikrest is evident from the first notes of the opener ‘Amidinine’. With the guitars playing at double-speed, the loping Touareg beat is transformed into a frantic, heads-down rock’n’roll boogie. It has an undeniable dynamic, although something of the haunting desert mystery has evaporated along the way. The same heavy attack informs most tracks. ‘Niamey Jam’ creates a new genre we might call ‘Touareg garage.’
Elsewhere, Auerbach adds splashes of synthesizer and pedal steel, while on ‘Imidiwan’ and ‘Aman’ he gets Bombino to bop like an Africanised T.Rex – the Black Keys are big Bolan fans, and sampled T.Rex’s ‘Mambo Sun’ on their Brothers album. But although this is one of those records that on first listen will probably have you asking ‘what have they done?,’ by the third or fourth play it sounds fabulous.
TRACK TO TRY: Tamiditine
(On Nonesuch Records)