My choice of accommodation in Bamako was ironic, given earlier events on the train. Inspired by the fires of hell outside the window of the Kayes-Bamako train, I plugged into my Walkman to soothe away the rest of the journey. For my African trip I've recorded five compilation tapes, each created according to a specific mood; they are Up (uplifting, happy stuff), Mellow (for those chill-out moments), Folk (hey, nonny nonny), Hard (air guitar optional) and Pot Luck (a random mix for random moods). Given the harshness of the environment, the satanic screeching of the train's wheels and the fires raging outside, I chose Hard.
Half an hour into my foot-stomping trance I felt a tap on my shoulder; it was one of the locals who were standing in the section between carriages, along with the squawking chickens, sacks of rice and the somewhat fragrant toilet. He pointed to my headphones and wobbled his head. I couldn't ignore him and he looked friendly, so I took off my headphones and smiled back.
'Hello,' I said.
'Hello,' he said, and we launched into the pleasantries. Mohammed was a student from Bamako, but he went to university in Casablanca in Morocco, he was a Muslim observing Ramadan, and he was really interested in music.
'Can I have a listen?' he asked, and I handed him the headphones. He put them on, did a double take, but slowly started to settle into the riff-laden rhythm. A couple of minutes later he was grinning madly and giving me the thumbs-up sign, but inwardly I cringed; I knew which song had just started, and I knew the vocals were about to kick in.
'What is this?' he asked.
'Err, it's Black Sabbath,' I said, just as Ozzy Osbourne launched into the first verse of the Sabbath's seminal track 'War Pigs':
Generals gathered in their masses
Just like witches at black masses
Evil minds that plot destruction
Sorcerers of death's construction
'Blah Sabbah?' he said. 'What is that? The name of the song?'
'No,' I said. 'That's the name of the band. In French it would be Dimanche Noir.'
'Ah, Dimanche Noir,' he nodded. 'And the song?'
'That would be "Les Cochons de la Guerre", I suppose,' I said.
'It's good,' he said, and tapped along as Ozzy continued:
In the fields the bodies burning
As the war machine keeps turning
Death and hatred to mankind
Poisoning their brainwashed minds
Oh Lord, yeah!
I sincerely hope he didn't understand Ozzy's lyrics, especially the bit that goes 'Satan, laughing, spreads his wings' as Tony Iommi's guitar arpeggios down through the octaves. I doubt that listening to Black Sabbath preaching about satanic war is one of the recommended observances during Ramadan – especially given the current tensions in the Gulf – but at least Mohammed seemed to enjoy the experience, which was the main thing, I guess.
Just don't blame me if he decides to grow his hair, paint his bedroom black and talk in monosyllables. I was only being polite...