Monthly Archives: March 2012

Niamey by night

The bar is called The New’s. The blue and white painted walls encircle a courtyard of broken mosaic tile. The crowd pours back beer in amber bottles, men in tight fitted t-shirts and suit jackets sitting statuesque and bored or a handful losing their shit on the dancefloor. A flickering strobe cycles through all the colors of the rainbow. On the wall next to the bar, a projector broadcasts a WWF match and Big Show talks into a microphone, translated in Arabic subtitles, but there is no sound. An old electric roulette machine flashes lights. It’s slightly slanted. Every space is filled with the flooded out music of the bar band. They’re out of tune and out of step with one another. It’s Zirma rock, but it sounds like free jazz. The singer does his round of the tables, microphone in hand, singing praises to the people sitting there, who affect this passive stance as he yells into their faces and hovers over their table like a mariachi band at a Tex-Mex restaurant, waiting for his tip so he can move on to the next table. A slight wind blows and mixes the scents of cigarettes and stale beer. The waitress collects her orders and returns with a blue wicker basket full of cans and bottles. No one asks me for a drink, looks in my direction, or talks to me. The band keeps playing and I can swear the drum has no kick pedal, in any case, it’s not mic’d and it’s drowned out by the clipped vocals of the lead singer. I look beyond the courtyard where a building of concrete and rebar stands in some state of transition — I’m unable to determine if it’s unfinished or falling apart.

Orchestre Lomko Star, Le New’s, Niamey

the reuse of old objects

Radio Hanna Broadcast

Radio Hanna is housed in an old dilapidated cinema in Gao, Mali. Vestiges of the movie theater remain: rusted seats on the balcony and a giant projection screen — flanked by piles of wood, wandering goats, and a woman pounding a mortar and pestle. Families rent the various rooms in what otherwise seems to be a massive brick courtyard. Radio Hanna’s office is up some crumbling stairs in the former projection booth.

Takamba is the music of Gao. Nowhere else does the droning terhardent and clash of the calabash dominate the frequencies. Muffled by the hiss of old cassettes and the crackle of radio, the music is interspersed with the layering of vocal shout outs — the original griot shouting praises for long vanished patrons, and Radio Hanna’s MC with his secondary announcements layered on top of the old takamba, another message relayed on an old vehicle.

white horses

It’s quiet in the dusty bus station, save for the hum of the fluorescent lights. The bus stands like a monument, a behemoth yellow vessel with its logo emblazoned on the side — a map of Niger and a galloping white horse. In the dark corners of the yard still bodies of the awaiting passengers sleep, bodies shrouded in sheets. Between morning and well after night, before the sun has decided to lighten the sky, the driver starts the engine, a rumbling idle that announces our imminent depart.

We climb onto the bus into half sleep confusion, shadows and profiles searching for a place. A friend’s remark rises from memory of how every journey starts in a battle, struggling for a seat, but the long hours bind us in solidarity. We drift into that delirious half sleep dreaming of potholes and cracked asphalt.

In the darkness, a young woman dies. Her body collapses in the aisle. There is confusion and shouting, the crying of her two children that meld together in a single drone, the panic and uncertainty and fear. She lays there in the dark for a long while, the bus continues, on the hope perhaps that somewhere down the line, there is someone who knows what to do. Her hand is cold as the plastic floor of the bus. We cover her in a blanket and ride with her body until the first prayer, arriving at a city, where we descend from the yellow bus and wait.

Her body is removed and the voyage continues, without a trace but for the silent glances between us. But the other passengers are soon gone too, replaced with new ones: an old woman with yellow bracelets draped in brown robes, a young girl with two two lines furrowed into her cheeks and delicate henna designs on her hands, a soldier in camouflage with matching red socks and beret. As the sun peaks at noon and descends into the colorless haze of dusty winds, I realize that I can’t recognize any of the passengers anymore, only the cold aisle of a bus, the memory of a nameless death, and the gallop of white horses.

somewhere outside of niamey, niger, bus

festival au desert pt. 2

There are a lot of festivals in the desert. Two features of nearly every festival are the sub-standard sound systems and traditional tende. Unfortunately, most of the time the tende is distorted beyond comprehension. Fortunately in the case of Festival Shiriken the equipment is so bad that the amplifier burns out after the first few hours, and the tende has to be performed as per tradition — acoustic, and encircled by towering camels.

Tende is a drum, a style of playing, a rhythm, used in exorcism of the sick, amusement in the evenings, and here, played in a festival to accompany the end of a camel race. In this particular tende, the small girls sit in the sand of the festival clearing playing the tende while mounted camels run in circles around them, towering beasts that step perilously close to the singers who seem to have complete trust in the camel jockeys (an perilously close to myself as well, finding circle as well, surrounded by aforementioned camels).

Alamnou w/ tende from Alghadad

The tende here is performed by girls from Alghadad, a nomad camp not far from Aboukan. The principal singer of the group is Alamnou, pictured below in the center.