Agadez – Rocking It Out During Ramadan

Many travellers avoid visiting Muslim countries during Ramadan, because it’s really quite boring. Most restaurants are closed, the fasting faithful are in a bad mood, and all entertainment is postponed until after Eid Al-Fitr.

In Agadez, the scarce offerings were enhanced by the overall lack of tourists. With only one hotel and two restaurants open, we survived on olives, tuna and water during the day, and found one restaurant that made a decent omelet at night.

As the only non-Africans in town, every single souvenir salesman made us their target. They invited us to tea, and scolded us if we did not want to buy anything. “I haven’t sold anything in three years,” they would say. “I have to eat.” And, more interestingly: “First I want you to buy something from my friend’s shop, then come to my shop to buy things,” as if it was our responsibility to feed the whole town.

But after sunset, the town shifted gears and came alive. Behind the night market, a bar with live music rocked out even during Ramadan! A local band, with the musicians rotating every few songs, was playing for an all-male audience. As in any bar in any Muslim city in West Africa, the only women present were prostitutes; some girls with traditional dresses and headscarves, and others with tight, see-through tops and mini skirts. The men, however, had shred their daytime pajama-looking outfits and were sporting western-style jeans and t-shirts.

The band, Agadez Ouriganes, joined the floor-level “stage” one by one. Around ten o’clock, there would be just one man plucking his guitar, and a drummer softly beating his djembe in time. As the night moved on, a singer would walk up to the microphone and start humming a whining tune, reminiscent of a Chinese folksong. Then a bassist would join, and a saxophonist, a percussionist. The tunes would expand, slowly but surely, from a simple beat to a full-powered African symphony with tropical undertones, Asian essence, lead in the ebbs and flows by the guitarrist. As the musicians entered and exited, the rhythms stayed intoxicating, strong, powerful. Amazing.

Once in a while a man would step onto the dance floor and dance for a minute or so. Their style seemed inspired by the camel’s walk; stiff legs kicking, trotting, and the body swaying from side to side. Cool, self-assured moves, perfectly in tune with the music.

The black sheep of Agadez, including us, loved this oasis from the otherwise strict environment outside. Beer was flowing. There was not a single Coca Cola in sight. And whenever anyone entered the bar, they would walk around the room, shaking hands with everyone. It was heaven in hell.

We could only imagine how this place would rock during non-Ramadan nights!


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