In a tradition dating back to the days before alarm clocks, drummers awaken the faithful in many Istanbul neighborhoods during the holy month of Ramadan so that residents have time to eat a large meal before the day-long fast. This EurasiaNet audio slideshow follows one Ramadan drummer on his pre-dawn rounds.
Carli is a Romany drummer, as was his father and grandfather. During Ramadan, which ends September 9, he walks through Istanbul’s Elmadağ District from 2 am to 4 am every morning performing his traditional function. It’s a custom that is not appreciated by everyone in the neighborhood. On this particular night, he caught an earful from a young mother whose baby had been startled awake by the beat. And, he reports, he’s been doused by an occasional bucket of water dumped from the upper floors of buildings.
Such incidents do not diminish Carli’s flare for the theatrical. He belts out Ramadan songs with uncommon gusto, given the early hour of the day. And he’s a sight to be seen, wearing traditional Ottoman dress and banging on a drum with lights that rotate in rainbow colors.
Ramadan drummers like Carli are restricted to one per district. Competitions are held at the local municipality every year, so as to ensure that drummers meet quality standards. They also must demonstrate that they know their neighborhoods well in order not to walk the same streets multiple times every night. City officials, it seems, want to support tradition, but also keep the noise to a minimum.
Jonathan Lewis is a freelance photojournalist based in Istanbul.