Nomad is an apt title for the latest album from African guitarist Bombino.

Nomad is an apt title for the latest album from African guitarist Bombino.

As a member of the Tuareg people, a wandering tribe that traditionally makes its home within the Saharan interior of North Africa, the guitarist has spent much of his adult life on the move. Sometimes this has been by choice (he has maintained an active tour schedule in recent years) while other times outside elements have intervened and forced him into exile. In 2007, for example, the musician fled his home in Niger for the West African nation of Burkina Faso after two members of his band were accused of being rebel soldiers and subsequently executed by government forces.

"I was concerned for my own safety at several points … but Niger is my home and I will always want to live there," said Bombino, born Omara Moctar 34 years ago, via a translator in a recent email interview. "I never wanted to live anywhere else. My heart is in the Tenere (a desert region in the south central Sahara) and that is where I will always return."

Though most at home in the desert, the musician journeyed nearly 6,000 miles to record his latest, cutting tracks with producer (and Black Keys frontman) Dan Auerbach in his Nashville studio.

"My friend [and Arthur magazine editor] Jay Babcock sent me a YouTube video of Bombino playing in the desert, and he had this wild, youthful energy that was so unlike any of the guys I'd listened to," Auerbach said in a late August phone interview. "I just reached out to him, and said, 'If you want to record I'd love to do that with you.' I'd never actually seen him play live until that first day in the studio."

Fittingly, the songs on Nomad strike a balance between traditional sounds (Tinariwen guitarist Ibrahim Ag Alhabib was an early role model, and shades of his playing reverberate throughout) and more western influences, with Bombino crediting the likes of Jimi Hendrix and Carlos Santana for expanding his musical boundaries.

"I would watch videos of these great artists with my cousins while we were in exile in Algeria," he said. "Early in my life, the guitar was my way of escaping my situation. I was just a boy at that time, and these videos would transport me into another world where I was free."

The instrument tends to fill a similar role these days, offering comfort and stability at a time when both are lacking.

"I am living proof of the power of the guitar to change one's life," Bombino said. "Just through the guitar I have gone from a refugee with absolutely nothing to a touring professional who gets to travel all over the world earning money doing what I love. It is like I am two different people completely: one very unlucky and the other very lucky."

RonWyman photo