Bombino Credit: Richard Dumas

On his previous two albums virtuosic Tuareg singer and guitarist Oumara “Bombino” Moctar worked with American producers Dan Auerbach (Black Keys) and David Longstreth (Dirty Projectors). Each of these auteurs left an imprint on his desert blues without muting his inviting soulfulness and beautifully scuffed sound—a bit of organ-stoked soul from Auerbach on 2013’s Nomad (Nonesuch), a bouncy, syncopated sheen from Longstreth on 2016’s Azel (Partisan). Like the best Tuareg artists who’e made inroads in the rock world, the Nigerien musician has never lost direction, but for his new record, Deran (Partisan), Bombino returned to Africa to record his rippling grooves in Casablanca, Morocco. The kit drumming of Corey Wilhelm retains a direct connection to rock, and the pumping organ licks of Mohamed Araki imbue the arrangements with the a touch of reggae, but as Bombino unspools biting leads threaded with infectious licks and effective repetitions of tightly coiled phrases, he’s never sounded more comfortable. On a few acoustic songs the ubiquitous clopping rhythm of a calabash cycles through the lattice of guitar riffs while Bombino delivers sparse lyrics that meditate on his native culture, ethnic fighting, the erosion of tradition, the struggle for freedom, and the Tamasheq language. Taken together, the songs and Bombino’s decision to record in Africa suggest a yearning to plug back into a land he’s been disconnected from after years of international touring, but as with every album he’s made, his homeland and Tuareg tradition course through every note.   v