Half an hour into the set, the grinning man leaned into the mic and murmured a polite “Ça va?” to answering shouts of “Ça va bien!” and “Je t’aime!” from the audience. It was probably about all the French they could muster, but it seemed important to display affection to the man onstage nonetheless. Yells of “Bombino! Bombino!” permeated the room.

Part of the excitement stemmed from seeing a musician from a far-flung region whose music is as novel as it is fascinating. Part of it was a reaction to an artist who has layered the music of his homeland with inspirations from America’s blues and rock heroes, and created excellent recordings out of it. But the sheer spirit which Bombino displayed onstage was the most important factor of all.

Bombino fled his native Niger twice, once in 1990 and again in 2007, to escape political instability. The second time led to his partnership with filmmaker Ron Wyman in Burkina Faso, out of which Bombino’s debut album Agadez was born. His second album, this past spring’s Nomad, was produced by Black Keys man Dan Auerbach, a sign of Bombino’s rising profile on the international stage.

Local band Billy Wylder, whose Middle Eastern-oriented sound was born while studying in Tel Aviv, opened the night with a promising set. After finishing with their single “Vineyards,” a Mideast-tinged take on contemporary indie rock with tangled dual guitar lines, frontman Avi Salloway welcomed Bombino onstage.

The Nigerien bluesman played his first several songs of the night on an acoustic guitar with bass and drum accompaniment, putting full emphasis on his beautiful vocals and his fingerpicked guitar style. Indeed, Bombino’s technique is intriguing: He used his thumb, index finger and middle finger to pick his guitar lines, all the while interspersing strums with the insides of his fingers. Occasionally he turned his thumb and index fingers into a rudimentary flat pick to achieve a fuller strum, a technique similar to that of Mark Knopfler but unusual in the pantheon of Western guitar.

Bombino’s smooth vocal sustain and soulful, rhythmic playing turned what would be a relatively interesting performance into an incredible display of West African blues. Each song followed the same structure, the same plan: The slight smile (Bombino almost always had the ghost of a smile on his face); the careful fingerpicked intro, his body twisting in time to the rhythm;  the half-chanted, half-sung vocals; the cascading entrance of the rhythm section’s accompaniment, their backing vocals like echoes of Bombino’s voice; Bombino barely maintaining his seat in his chair, as he smiled and twisted with the beat, playing rhythm and interspersing lead lines throughout; the band’s tempo picking up slowly, then steadily faster, faster, the same riff in half the time, until the audience’s headbobs became quick jerks…and then the song’s abrupt ending, and the crowd calling out Bombino’s name until he launched into the next tune.

This continued until Bombino pulled out his Strat, whereupon the danceable portion of the evening began. Bombino couldn’t restrain himself as he leapt lightly from foot to foot, rocking and smiling, flanked by his rhythm guitarist and bassist in Saharan garb.  Members of Billy Wylder provided help on percussion, and a saxophonist came onstage to trade solos with Bombino’s shrieking guitar.  The songs continued in the same pattern as before, except that the smooth acoustics were replaced with deep electric grooves. The guitar lines, bluesy and trancelike at once, danced on top of a deep groove. Two minutes after a song ended, it was almost impossible to recall its melody or rhythm because another, similar one had superseded it; there were no discernible lyrics to tag any particular tune in one’s memory (he sings in Tuareg, the predominant language of the Sahara region). A casual observer could be forgiven for wondering whether Bombino played the same song fourteen times.

But here’s the thing: The fact that Bombino used the same recipe to construct each song in his set was truly not a downside—not when his recipe is inescapably groovy, soulful and melodic, often trancelike and always enjoyable to watch. The audience certainly agreed: by the end of the set they were leaning over the stage to touch him and shake his hand, while those in the back shouted his name and culled whatever French phrases they could muster. After finishing their encore, the band bowed six times, Bombino grinning in the center. If there ever was a display of a performer delighted to share his music with an audience, this was it.

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