African guitarist Bombino and his band are playing a concert in Winston-Salem Wednesday night. The Grammy-nominated musician whom The New York Times calls “the Sultan of Shred” is considered a prominent musical voice of the Saharan region.

Bombino — also known as Oumara Moctar — came of age in northern Niger during a time of great political strife.

Growing up amongst the nomadic Tuareg people, he began playing guitar as a teenager along with worn cassettes of Jimi Hendrix, Dire Straits, and Ali Farka Toure. But his approach to what's known as “desert blues” evolved organically. 

Bombino, speaking through an interpreter, says he had all these influences but he never tried to "find his style." He played what he felt, and it came naturally. 

Over the last few years, interest in guitar music from the region has exploded. Groups like Tinariwen and Mdou Moctar, to name a few, have grown in popularity. Bombino says he's proud of that fact because 20 years ago, not many people knew the Tuareg's music.

Bombino has made a few albums in the states with notable producers like Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys, and recently cut a record in Casablanca, Morocco, a little closer to home. He wants to one day record in Niger, but getting the required gear and electricity to the desert area is a challenge. 

Bombino is currently on tour through July and hopes his music can be a salve for troubled times.

“They will dance," he says. "They will dance all the night. And when the public come, they forget their problems. And you learn the world is not just your city — the world is big. We are all different, but we are all human. And we can live together — and dance!”

Bombino is playing at The Ramkat in downtown Winston-Salem, with Africa Unplugged opening. 

Editor's note: This transcript was edited for clarity. Bombino's responses were interpreted by Youba Dia, the bassist of Bombino's band. 


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