Bombino was born in 1980 in Tidene, Niger, a Tuareg encampment about 80 kilometers northeast of Agadez. He is a member of the Ifoghas tribe, which belongs to the Kel Air Tuareg federation. Following the outbreak of the Tuareg Rebellion in 1990, Bombino, along with his father and grandmother, were forced to flee to neighboring Algeria for safety. During this time, visiting relatives left behind a guitar, and Bombino began to teach himself how to play. He later studied with renowned Tuareg guitarist, Haja Bebe. Bebe asked him to join his band where he gained the nickname “Bombino”, which is derived from the Italian word “bambino”, that means ‘little child’. While living in Algeria and Libya in his teen years, Bombino and his friends watched videos of Jimi Hendrix, Mark Knopfler and others to learn their styles. He worked as both a musician and a herder in the desert near Tripoli. By 1997, Bombino had returned to Agadez and began life as a professional musician.
Filmmaker Hisham Mayet managed to track down and record Bombino and his electric band Group Bombino in 2007 during a wedding performance. Those recordings, along with several acoustic performances in the ‘dry guitar’ style, can be heard on theSublime Frequencies’ 2009 release, “Group Bombino – Guitars from Agadez, vol. 2.” Later in 2007, tensions grew again in Niger and ultimately erupted into another Tuareg Rebellion. The government, hoping to thwart the rebellion in all its forms, banned guitars for the Tuareg, as the instrument was seen as a symbol of rebellion. Bombino remarked in an interview, “I do not see my guitar as a gun but rather as a hammer with which to help build the house of the Tuareg people.” Additionally, two of Bombino’s fellow musicians were executed, thus forcing him into exile.
In January 2010 Bombino was able to return to his home in Agadez. So as to celebrate the end of the conflict, a large concert was organized at the base of the Grand Mosque in Agadez, having received the blessing of the Sultan. Bombino and his band played to over a thousand people at the concert, all dancing and celebrating the end of their struggle.
While Bombino lived in exile in Burkina Faso, filmmaker Ron Wyman, having heard cassette recordings of his music, decided to track him down. Wyman encouraged Bombino to properly record his music. Bombino agreed, and the two of them with the help of Chris Decato produced an album together in Agadez. The recordings culminated in his album Agadez, released in April, 2011 which debuted at the top of the iTunes World Chart.
The success of ‘Agadez’ attracted many musical stars to Bombino including Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys. In June 2012, Auerbach began producing Bombino’s second international solo album titled ‘Nomad’. Nomad was released by Nonesuch Records on April 2, 2013 and debuted at number one on the iTunes World Chart and Billboard World Chart. Bombino began a concert tour of the United States in May 2013. The tour includes appearances at major music festivals, including Bonnaroo and The Newport Folk Festival. In 2013, Bombino was also invited to open for Robert Plant, Amadou & Mariam and Gogol Bordello.
His next album will be recorded in 2015 and is set to be released in 2016.