BBC 2024-02-08 12:01:47

Pakistan cuts mobile internet as country votes

Pakistan has suspended mobile calls and data services as millions head to the polls to vote in a new government.

An interior ministry spokesman said the measure was warranted, citing recent incidents of terror in the country.

The election comes almost two years since the previous prime minister, cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, was ousted in a no-confidence vote.

Three-time PM Nawaz Sharif is now on the ballot in what many analysts say is Pakistan’s least credible election yet.

Khan was jailed on corruption charges last year and is barred from standing.

Both calls and data services have been suspended, though wifi networks still appear to be working.

One voter told the BBC they were shocked at the decision, saying “voters should be facilitated instead of [having to be met with] such hurdles”.

Another said she was expecting a blanket shutdown.

Many voters in the city of Lahore told the BBC that the internet blackout meant it was not possible to book taxis to go and vote, while others said they couldn’t chat to other family members to co-ordinate when to head to polling stations.

Justifying the move, an Interior Ministry spokesman said: “As a result of the recent incidents of terrorism in the country, precious lives have been lost. Security measures are essential to maintain law and order situation and to deal with potential threats.”

Two bomb blasts killed 28 people in Balochistan province on Wednesday.

The shutdown was also criticised by Bilawal Bhutto Zadari, son of murdered ex-Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who called for services to be restored “immediately”. Mr Bhutto, who is also running for the top job, said his Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) had approached the election commission and the courts to get services restored.

The country is on high alert, with a heavy security presence at polling stations across the country. One station in Lahore the BBC visited had armed guards at the entrance and army officers roaming around the area.

Border crossings with Afghanistan and Iran have been closed for both cargo and pedestrians to “ensure full security” during polling, a spokesman from Pakistan’s foreign ministry said.

The country has in the past cut internet services to control the flow of information – though a shutdown of this extent is unprecedented, especially during an election.

Absolutely fair election: Nawaz Sharif

Mr Sharif and his daughter Maryam voted in Icchra, Lahore on Thursday afternoon. Security was tight, with officers forming a ring around them and a jeep covered in antennas to jam phone signals.

Black cars lined the area as the pair entered the station.

When asked if he thought the election was free and fair, Mr Sharif said they were “absolutely fair”.

Speaking to the BBC outside the polling station after having cast his vote, he said he had “never had any problems with the military”.

Mr Sharif spoke of the “lack of civility, the arrogance, and this culture of disrupting and destroying the country”, in an apparent reference to Pakistan under Mr Khan.

He said he and his family had gone to jail, “made sacrifices and now we are here witnessing this day”. If his party wins, “people’s lives will become easier, inflation will go down – this is what people want, this is their wish – and their wishes should come true”, he added.

Voting ends at 1700 local time (1200 GMT). Strict rules around election coverage – including what can be said about candidates, campaigning and opinion polls – remain in place until 23:59 local time on Thursday. Its unclear how soon results will be announced but they must be released within two weeks of the vote.

Outside one polling station in the city of Multan in Punjab, some female polling agents told the BBC they were not allowed to enter polling booths – and therefore could not observe the polling process.

Typically, female polling agents are given a seat inside booths.

In Lahore, dozens of voters crammed into the small corridors of a school in Naseerabad, with some saying they had been waiting for more than two hours to vote.

Rising violence and economic struggles

As many as 128 million people are registered to cast their votes, almost half of whom are under the age of 35. More than 5,000 candidates – of whom just 313 are women – are contesting the 266 directly-elected seats in the 336-member National Assembly.

The Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) (PML-N) and the PPP are considered the two major parties going into the vote.

However, picking out candidates from Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party is more difficult, after it was banned from using the cricket bat symbol under which all its candidates run.

  • Who is really pulling the strings in a divided Pakistan?
  • A jailed star and former convict: Pakistan’s election, explained

The move has forced PTI-backed candidates, who are running as independents, to use other symbols instead, including calculators, electric heaters and dice. Electoral symbols play a key role in a country where more than 40% are unable to read.

The PTI allege other tactics have also been used to prevent their candidates from campaigning for and winning seats, including locking up PTI members and supporters and banning them from holding rallies, effectively forcing them underground.

Imran Khan is serving at least 14 years in prison, having been sentenced in three separate cases in the space of five days last week. The PTI alleges interference by Pakistan’s powerful military, with whom Khan is said to have fallen out before his ousting and imprisonment.

But people will be able to vote for Nawaz Sharif – the PML-N leader, who at the time of the last election was beginning a sentence for corruption.

The former PM was ousted in a 1999 military coup and had his third term cut short in 2017 – but he recently returned from self-imposed exile. He had his lifetime ban on holding office overturned, and also got his criminal record wiped clean at the end of last year, allowing him to stand for what would be a record fourth term.

  • The cricket star and former PM dividing Pakistan
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However, whether any party can win a majority – which requires 169 seats in parliament – is not yet clear.

Millions have been hit hard by the country’s economic woes, which were exacerbated by devastating floods in 2022. Inflation is soaring, and people are struggling to pay their bills.

According to the Islamabad-based Center for Research and Security Studies (CRSS), 2023 also saw violent incidents increase for the third year in a row in Pakistan, with the most recorded fatalities – including security forces, militants and civilians – since 2017.

On Wednesday – less than 24 hours before the first voters cast their ballots – two separate attacks on candidates’ offices left more than 28 people dead in Balochistan province.

The Election Commission of Pakistan has categorised half of the 90,675 polling stations as either “sensitive”, meaning there is a risk of violence, or “most sensitive”, indicating a higher risk. The classifications are based on the region’s security situation and history of electoral violence.

Additional reporting by BBC Urdu and Flora Drury

Putin challenger barred from Russia’s election

Russia’s election commission has rejected anti-war challenger Boris Nadezhdin as a candidate in next month’s presidential vote.

Mr Nadezhdin has been relatively critical of Vladimir Putin’s full-scale war in Ukraine when few dissenting voices have been tolerated in Russia.

Election authorities claimed more than 15% of the signatures he submitted with his candidate application were flawed.

He had tried to challenge this, but the commission rejected his bid.

Refusing to give up, Mr Nadezhdin, 60, said on social media that he would challenge the decision in Russia’s Supreme Court.

The Central Election Commission said that more than 9,000 signatures submitted by Mr Nadezhdin were invalid, citing a variety of violations.

That left 95,587 names, meaning he was just short of the 100,000 required signatures to register as a candidate, commission member Andrei Shutov said.

“There are tens of millions of people here who were going to vote for me, ” Mr Nadezhdin complained to the commission. “According to all polls, I am in second place after Putin.”

“The decision has been made,” declared commission chairwoman Ella Pamfilova. “If Nadezhdin wants, he can go to court,” Tass news agency quoted her as saying.

Russia’s presidential election is due to take place from 15-17 March, although the result is not in doubt as only candidates viewed as acceptable to the Kremlin are running.

A final decision on who can take part in the election will come on Saturday, but the election commission chairwoman said it was already clear there would be four candidates on the ballot.

Other than Vladimir Putin, they include nationalist leader Leonid Slutsky, parliament deputy speaker Vladislav Davankov and Communist Nikolai Kharitonov. All their parties have broadly backed Kremlin policies and none of the trio is seen as a genuine challenger.

“Running for president in 2024 is the most important political decision of my life. I am not retreating from my intentions,” Mr Nadezhdin wrote on Telegram. “I collected more than 200,000 signatures across Russia. We conducted the collection openly and honestly.”

Boris Nadezhdin is one of the few government critics whose voices have been heard on the ubiquitous talk shows on state-run TV since the invasion on 24 February 2022. He has appeared as a type of anti-war “whipping boy” that other guests would target for criticism.

In the 1990s he worked as an adviser for Putin critic Boris Nemtsov who was assassinated a stone’s thrown from the Kremlin in 2015. But he also has ties to Sergei Kiriyenko, a key Putin political overseer.

Read Steve Rosenberg: How Russians view looming elections

Although Mr Nadezhdin’s run for the presidency was viewed initially with suspicion by some opposition figures, Russia’s main opposition leader Alexei Navalny gave his backing to the Nadezhdin campaign from his jail cell inside the Arctic Circle, as did exiled former business magnate Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

Mr Nadezhdin appeared on the BBC last month promising to end the war in Ukraine on his first day as president, although he was realistic about his chances of success.

“My first task will be to stop the conflict with Ukraine, and then to restore normal relations between Russia and the Western community.”

He is not the first presidential hopeful to have run on an anti-war platform. In December, former TV journalist and independent politician Yekaterina Duntsova was barred from running because the election commission said there were mistakes on her application form.

Mr Nadezhdin said he had tapped into a wave of anti-war sentiment in Russia, meeting the wives of reservists who want their husbands to return from the war. His campaign started slowly and it was only in recent weeks that Russians began registering their support in large numbers.

His increasing success also attracted condemnation from pro-Kremlin propagandists such as Vladimir Solovyov, who suggested he might be a stooge for “Ukrainian Nazis”.

World breaches 1.5C warming threshold for full year

For the first time, global warming has exceeded 1.5C across an entire year, according to the EU’s climate service.

World leaders promised in 2015 to try to limit the long-term temperature rise to 1.5C, which is seen as crucial to help avoid the most damaging impacts.

This first year-long breach doesn’t break that landmark Paris agreement, but it does bring the world closer to doing so in the long-term.

Urgent action to cut carbon emissions can still slow warming, scientists say.

“This far exceeds anything that is acceptable,” Prof Sir Bob Watson, a former chair of the UN’s climate body, told the BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme.

“Look what’s happened this year with only 1.5C – we’ve seen floods, we’ve seen droughts, we’ve seen heatwaves and wildfires all over the world.”

The period from February 2023 to January 2024 reached 1.52C of warming, according to the EU’s Copernicus Climate Change Service. The following graph shows how that compares with previous years.

The latest climate warning comes amid news that the Labour Party is ditching its policy of spending £28bn a year on its green investment plan in a major U-turn. The Conservatives also pushed back on some key targets in September.

This means the UK’s two main parties have scaled back the type of pledges that many climate scientists say are needed globally if the worst impacts of warming are to be avoided.

  • Why is the Paris climate agreement still important?
  • A really simple guide to climate change

The world’s sea surface is also at its highest ever recorded average temperature – yet another sign of the widespread nature of climate records. As the chart below shows, it’s particularly notable given that ocean temperatures don’t normally peak for another month or so.

Science groups differ slightly on precisely how much temperatures have increased, but all agree that the world is in by far its warmest period since modern records began – and likely for much longer.

Limiting long-term warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels – before humans started burning large amounts of fossil fuels – has become a key symbol of international efforts to tackle climate change.

A landmark UN report in 2018 said that the risks from climate change – such as intense heatwaves, rising sea-levels and loss of wildlife – were much higher at 2C of warming than at 1.5C.

Why has 1.5C been broken over the past year?

The long-term warming trend is unquestionably being driven by human activities – mainly from burning fossil fuels, which releases planet-warming gases like carbon dioxide. This is also responsible for the vast majority of the warmth over the past year.

In recent months, a natural climate-warming phenomenon known as El Niño has also given air temperatures an extra boost, although it would typically only do so by about 0.2C.

  • What are El Niño and La Niña?

Global average air temperatures began exceeding 1.5C of warming on an almost daily basis in the second half of 2023, when El Niño began kicking in, and this has continued into 2024. This is shown where the red line is above the dashed line in the graph below.

An end to El Niño conditions is expected in a few months, which could allow global temperatures to temporarily stabilise, and then fall slightly, probably back below the 1.5C threshold.

But while human activities keep adding to the levels of warming gases in the atmosphere, temperatures will ultimately continue rising in the decades ahead.

  • Is the world warming faster than expected?

Can we still limit global warming?

At the current rate of emissions, the Paris goal of limiting warming to 1.5C as a long-term average – rather than a single year – could be crossed within the next decade.

This would be a hugely symbolic milestone, but researchers say it wouldn’t mark a cliff edge beyond which climate change will spin out of control.

The impacts of climate change would continue to accelerate, however with every little increase in warming – something that the extreme heatwaves, droughts, wildfires and floods over the past 12 months have given us a taste of.

An extra half a degree – the difference between 1.5C and 2C of global warming – also greatly increases the risks of passing so-called tipping points.

These are thresholds within the climate system which, if crossed, could lead to rapid and potentially irreversible changes.

For example, if the Greenland and West Antarctic Ice Sheets passed a tipping point, their potentially runaway collapse could cause catastrophic rises to global sea-levels over the centuries that followed.

But researchers are keen to emphasise that humans can still make a difference to the world’s warming trajectory.

The world has made some progress, with green technologies like renewables and electric vehicles booming in many parts of the world.

This has meant some of the very worst case scenarios of 4C warming or more this century – thought possible a decade ago – are now considered much less likely, based on current policies and pledges.

And perhaps most encouragingly of all, it’s still thought that the world will more or less stop warming once net zero carbon emissions are reached. Effectively halving emissions this decade is seen as particularly crucial.

“That means we can ultimately control how much warming the world experiences, based on our choices as a society, and as a planet,” says Zeke Hausfather, a climate scientist at US group Berkeley Earth.

“Doom is not inevitable.”

Graphics by Erwan Rivault.

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Cars are getting bigger – so are the risks

In some parts of the world, cars have always been on the larger side. But now these behemoths are spreading – and the consequences are still being figured out.

The 2024 Chevrolet Suburban, a nine-passenger sports utility vehicle (SUV), measures 225.7 inches (18ft/5.5m), and is advertised as “a room with a view”. A seven-seat, fully electric crossover vehicle designed by Kia houses an 800-Volt battery that weighs, on average, 1,000lb (450kg). An electric Hummer SUV, meanwhile, has a maximum width, including mirrors, of 93.7in (2.4m).

Large cars are becoming ever more popular. In fact, the size of the average car is growing wider at a rate of 1cm (0.4in) every two years, according to the non-profit Transport and Environment. With this increase in size comes some equally large problems, from environmental repercussions to safety hazards, and the sheer difficulty of manoeuvring cars in streets and parking spaces designed for smaller models.

As the city of Paris, France, votes to triple the parking fees for visitors’ SUVs in its streets, what can be done to remedy the challenges that come with large cars?

How the car got so big

Car shapes and sizes have steadily ballooned since the late 1970s. The reasons for this increase are various and complex. The addition of safety features like lateral and frontal airbags and “crumple zones” required more space, while consumers began to seek out luxury, exotic and import vehicles. Finally, the auto industry incentivised the purchase of trucks and SUVs over lighter sedans.

In 1975, the US Congress amended fuel economy regulations on new passenger vehicles in the form of Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency standards. These standards determine fuel-economy targets, but instated more lenient requirements for light trucks and SUVs than standard cars. The standards have been updated since, but still allow lower fuel-efficiency standards for larger vehicles.

There are other factors at play too. It used to be the case that a single manufacturer would offer smaller vehicle variants in Europe, South America and parts of Asia, while consumers in the US (and China, the world’s largest car market) could select from a range of much larger options.

Very large cars have been causing concerns for parking in cities such as Paris (Credit: Getty Images)

That variation is disappearing. The majority of vehicles in the UK used to be designed and produced in Britain, with narrow English streets in mind. Now, vehicles in the UK (and the EU) tend to be larger imports designed to navigate the urban sprawl and looping freeways found elsewhere. In 2020, the average mass of new cars in the EU and the UK increased to 1.457 tonnes, 3% higher than in 2019 and 15 % above 2001 levels.

The shift towards heavier (and therefore less fuel-efficient) conventional vehicles increases both oil demand and CO2 emissions; consider that global CO2 emissions of SUVs are nearing 1 billion tonnes.

“This is a phenomenon that has spread throughout the globe; we see SUVs making inroads in Europe, China and South Africa due to a combination of factors,” says Apostolos D. Petropoulos, an energy modeller at the world energy outlook team at the International Energy Agency headquartered in Paris, France.

Big cars come with big challenges

Even a stationary SUV can be a significant problem in a city that evolved around smaller cars. In 2023, Which? – an organisation that tests consumer products and services – found that 161 car models were too big for the average parking space in the UK. Twenty-seven of those models were so wide that it would be difficult to open the doors while constrained within a single parking bay.

In the EU, the average width of new cars has now surpassed 180cm (5.9ft), which is often used as a lower threshold for on-street parking in Europe. Meanwhile in the US, the strain on parking exacerbated by SUVs has been making headlines for more than 20 years.

A problem too, is the rising emissions that come with bigger vehicles. One report, by the US Environmental Protection Agency, notes that “all vehicle types are at record low CO2 emissions; however, market shifts away from cars and towards SUVs and pickups have offset some of the fleetwide benefits”.

In other words, bigger cars are diminishing our climate emissions gains. And it is worth noting that most car manufacturers offer smaller, more efficient alternatives. 

Road deaths are seen as an inevitable consequence of mass mobility in many countries, yet in this debate one factor is rarely cited: the increased bulk of cars

Shifting SUVs to electric isn’t a complete solution either. While the switch to electric vehicles is a valuable step toward net zero emissions, there are drawbacks as those vehicles increase in size.

Cars fitted with electric batteries can also become weighty projectiles in the event of a crash; according to the IEA’s 2023 EV Outlook, “Battery electric SUVs often have batteries that are two- to three-times larger than small cars.”

Electric models of SUVs come with their own climate costs. In 2022, around 55% of the available EV models available worldwide were SUVs, and demand has seen consistent growth. 

As cars get larger, their environmental impact grows too (Credit: Getty Images)

The architecture of an electric SUV is a complex system involving batteries, motors, sensors, electronic controls, auxiliary equipment, wiring, housing and other components. The batteries that power the majority of EVs rely on raw materials such as lithium, cobalt and nickel. Mining for these resources has its own environmental impact. Finally, larger vehicles will require suitable charging stations, which in turn puts stress on our electric grids.

When shopping for a gasoline-powered car, consumers often focus on miles per gallon. Plug-in vehicles, by contrast, don’t use mpg as a metric; an EV’s energy consumption is measured in kilowatt-hours per 100 miles (160km). Bigger cars require more kilowatt-hours: an electric sedan, for example, requires roughly half as many kilowatt hours as does an electric SUV, according to Petropoulos.

That’s not to say EVs aren’t still a better climate choice than conventional cars. “While EVs’ production is more carbon-intensive than that of gas-powered cars, this difference quickly disappears; a car with an internal combustion engine produces emissions over the course of its lifetime, whereas an EV does not,” says Laura LoSciuto, leader of the Battery Circular Economy Initiative at the Rocky Mountain Institute in Colorado. “EVs are an overall net win emissions-wise, even if the grid on which it relies is powered by fossil fuels…. [Our] transportation system needs to be electrified, period, despite the issues with car culture,” she says.

Rising US road deaths

Electric SUVs are equipped with bigger batteries because these vehicles have higher power needs. But EV (and conventional) SUVs are also geared toward better performance, meaning it’s not just the weight and size of these vehicles that affects traffic safety – it’s the way they’re driven too. “We can attribute some of the dangers of these bigger cars on the behaviour of the consumers,” says Petropoulos. “They want to accelerate faster, which requires more battery power.”

The New York Times recently highlighted the “exceptionally American” problem of rising road deaths. Roadways are becoming safer in many developed countries across the world, but not the United States.

Some design trends may not be helping. Many newer, behemoth models have high hoods, which pose distinct safety hazards. A US study of nearly 18,000 crashes involving pedestrians found that SUVs and vans with a hood height greater than 40in inches (102cm) were about 45% more likely to cause fatalities than those with a height of 30in (76cm) or less.

Another study of 3,400 vehicle crashes in the US where a pedestrian was struck found a link between the front-end vehicle height and the risk of the pedestrian’s death. Raising the front-end of the vehicle by 10cm (4in) was linked to a 22% increase in pedestrian fatality risk, the study found.

As consumer demand for larger cars continues to grow, some cities are considering policies to restrict their use (Credit: Getty Images)

“A number of alarm bells are going off, and the responses are staggering in how ineffective they are,” says Kevin J. Krizek, professor of environmental design at University of Colorado Boulder, who co-authored a white paper on fatal road crashes, or “traffic violence”, that was submitted last month to US Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg.

“In high school physics, force is a function of mass and speed, but in the world of vehicles, there’s a third deadly factor: the design of the hood,” says LoSciuto. “The higher and more angular the hood, the greater the risk.” Frontal blind spots large enough to hide adults and children can lead to fatal accidents. “Unlike their shorter, sloped counterparts, these towering hoods don’t just hit – they can shove victims to the ground and under the vehicle,” says LoSciuto.

Perhaps there’s a future in which we’re simply less dependent on big cars. Is there an alternative type of transportation system that pivots away from bigger, faster vehicles altogether?  

“The optimal solution sits before us: retrofitting streets to make them safe for people using myriad smaller and lighter vehicles,” says Krizek. “Fleet operators already await movement on this front; economic development incentives could be provided to spur companies to produce more of these types of vehicles (hundreds already exist), which bolsters the idea.”

There are signs of some cities moving in this direction already. Even traditionally car-centric European cities such as Brussels are considering restrictions on SUVs, even as Paris puts its heavy parking charge on visitors using them. Other policymakers in New York are proposing to rein in large cars through tax policies like weight-based registration fees.

But for some cities, from London to New York, the answer may be not to single out large cars, but encourage other forms of transport altogether.

* The European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association and the International Organization of Motor Vehicle Manufacturers were both approached for comment for this story, but did not respond by the time of publication.

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Eight of New Orleans’ best live music venues

Singer-songwriter Andrew Duhon shares the best live music in his hometown New Orleans, from acoustic sets at The Tigermen Den to candlelit piano acts at Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar.

New Orleans, with its famous “Big Easy” vibe, fabulous food and exhilarating live music scene, might just be America’s biggest party – and not only during its iconic Mardi Gras celebration. Its eclectic neighbourhoods straddling the snaking Mississippi River are home to a year-round bevy of musical acts, spanning styles from funk to blues to the New Orleans-bred genres of jazz, Cajun-infused zydeco and hip-hop subset Bounce.

We asked Andrew Duhon, a NOLA-based singer-songwriter, to help us find his hometown’s best live music venues. “This isn’t just any other city that we’re living in,” said Duhon. “This is a special place to wander around, and the stories are everywhere, through every aged wooden French-style door that opens up into a beautiful courtyard in the French Quarter.”

But with so many stories – and venues – to choose from, Duhon, who performs all over the country with his folk and blues trio, gravitates towards places that “feel” like New Orleans. “To stand on the corner at a place like BJ’s in the Bywater and talk to the local folk,” he said. “Half of them you might recognise and be familiar with and the other half, you’re going to be friends in five minutes and enjoy a show inside.”

Duhon remains especially influenced by the city itself, which he believes unconsciously inspires every NOLA-based creative and lives in its best music venues. “I can come home and feel that sense of history in a room like that and a welcoming back. I think that is truly unique to New Orleans.”

Here are eight of Andrew Duhon’s favourite spots to catch live music acts in New Orleans.

Tipitina’s in Uptown is a classic New Orleans musical experience that draws both national and up-and-coming New Orleans-based acts (Credit: William Morgan/Alamy)

1. Best large venue that stages national acts: Tipitina’s

“The first place that comes to mind is Tipitina’s,” said Duhon, citing the rustic juke joint that has been one of New Orleans’ most revered music venues since it opened in 1977. “It was named after a song by [iconic New Orleans pianist] Professor Longhair. So even the name is of New Orleans.”

Tipitina’s is found in Uptown New Orleans and hosts an immense variety of excellent NOLA acts like bounce artist Big Freedia and a jam-packed calendar of Mardi Gras programming. “They will have nationally touring acts come through,” said Duhon. “They’re a big enough room to have that sort of thing happen. But there’s also plenty local stuff going on there. And it feels like New Orleans at Tipitina’s, you know, it’s not a sterile room. It’s very special inside and the music that they have is special, too.”

Website: 501 Napoleon Ave, New Orleans, LA 70115
Phone: (504) 895-8477
Instagram: @tipitinas

Duhon’s pick for dinner and entertainment is the Maple Leaf Bar, which is next door to Jacques-Imo’s restaurant serving “real Nawlins” cuisine (Credit: William Morgan/Alamy)

2. Best for making a night of it: the Maple Leaf Bar

For visitors planning a whole evening in New Orleans, Duhon recommends the funky watering hole the Maple Leaf Bar, also Uptown, which has hosted live acts since 1974.

“It’s a little smaller, less nationally touring acts getting through there,” said Duhon of the music club, housed in a bi-level 19th-Century frame town home. “But it was home to many of the forefathers of New Orleans music [who] used to play there, and it remains a great venue.”

The Maple Leaf Bar’s acts offer hot sets in genres including funk, blues, zydeco, R&B and jazz, and while the bar is most known for providing a platform for up-and-coming local artists, it also welcomes the occasional, surprise drop-in sesh by household name musicians, like legendary rocker Bruce Springsteen and NOLA native jazz musician Jon Batiste.

“It’s also next door to an excellent restaurant for New Orleans food which is called Jacque-Imo’s,” said Duhon. “So, you can make a perfect little night of it. You book yourself table at Jacque-Imo’s, get yourself something to eat, and then go see a funk band next door. I mean, what’s not to love?” Duhon recommends the alligator cheesecake: “Seems like a must.”

Address: 8316 Oak Street, New Orleans, LA 70118
Phone: (504) 866-9359
Instagram: @mapleleafnola

Chickie Wah Wah on Canal Street offers a laid-back cocktail room and listening experience (Credit: William Morgan/Alamy)

3. Best listening room : Chickie Wah Wah

For the discerning music lover who wants nothing more than to sit down and listen in a chill space with a cocktail in their hand, Duhon recommends heading to Chickie Wah Wah, an unassuming white brick cottage on the Canal Street streetcar line offering a constant line up of great musical acts. “The owner passed away a few years back and there was word that it might go away,” said Duhon. “But since then, I’m glad to report that new owners – all of them just understanding and loving New Orleans – are doing good things with that room. And I think it’s a great spot to catch a show.”

Chickie Wah Wah’s intimate space is a magnet for a New Orleans-style blend of musical styles. “They’ll do the singer-songwriter type things, you know, broad in that sense,” said Duhon, who enjoys performing at Chickie Wah Wah when he’s in town. “It can be anything from country to rock and roll to local Cajun music, but, you know, something that you can sit and listen to.”

Website: https://chickiewahwah.comAddress: 2828 Canal Street, New Orleans, LA 70119
Phone: (504) 541-2050
Instagram: @chickiewahwahnola

Le Bon Temps Roule on Magazine Street is a friendly dive with food, billiards and a wide mix of musical acts (Credit: William Morgan/Getty Images)

4. Best dive bar with eclectic line up: Le Bon Temps Roule

If a dive bar immediately conjures up images of a barely functioning jukebox, allow your horizons to be broadened with a visit to Le Bon Temps Roule – or Le Bon Temps, as it’s affectionately called by locals.

“It’s a dive bar with a live music room in the back,” explained Duhon. “It’s dark and woody and yeah, it feels like New Orleans in there.”

Le Bon Temps Roule is nestled on a corner of Magazine Street, housed in a historic late 19th-Century building painted an eye-catching red. Visitors can relax with a game of billiards as they take in the vast array of acts, from soul to hip hop DJ sets, or enjoy a hearty pub menu of burgers and sandwiches, washed down with a Bloody Mary, the house cocktail.

“It’s a great room,” said Duhon. “Not too big. It’s a dive venue and lovely. They’ll do brass bands in the back; everything from country to brass.”

Website: 4801 Magazine Street, New Orleans LA 70115
Phone: (504) 897-3448
Instagram: @lebontempsroulenola

One of Duhon’s favourite ways to experience the NOLA music scene is wandering from venue to venue on Frenchmen Street and Saint Claude Avenue (Credit: William Morgan/Alamy)

5. Best for wandering from venue to venue with a drink in your hand: Frenchmen Street and Saint Claude Avenue

If certain venues “feel” like New Orleans, there are two streets – or corridors, in NOLA-speak – that encapsulate the vibe for Duhon. “Maybe you just picked up a cocktail from one room, but you want to go to the next,” he said. “You can bring that cocktail along to the next room if you like. You can walk with your drink in New Orleans.”

Duhon’s favourite music venue-lined corridors are Frenchmen Street and Saint Claude Avenue. “When I was a kid figuring out my songwriter thing, Frenchmen Street felt pure,” Duhon reminisced. “It felt like the tourists hadn’t found [it] yet.” Duhon concedes that gentrification is sneaking into the corridor, but the stalwarts remain. “The ones that come to mind are DBA, Snug Harbor [Jazz Bistro] and The Spotted Cat Music Club,” he said. “DBA can be a mixed bag; everything from rock to jazz. Snug Harbor is strictly jazz. [There’s a] seated area around a small stage, very intimate, quiet, a place where you can really tuck in and listen… and across the street, the Spotted Cat is a whole different take on jazz. That’s a small room where there aren’t seats; you’re just shoulder to shoulder with the locals and a beer in your hand and on the stage is probably somebody crooning some jazz tunes, Dixieland.”

On Saint Claude Avenue, Duhon likes [indie music room] Hi-Ho Lounge; metal, punk and underground band venue Siberia; Allways Lounge [cabaret]; alternative music spot Saturn Bar and Sweet Lorraine’s [jazz club]. “I think either Frenchmen or Saint Claude are great options,” said Duhon. “I wouldn’t even have to look at a calendar… I could go to either one of those corridors and feel like I’m going to find something cool… A walk-in beverage, a couple of friends, or not. Make a couple of friends! That’s New Orleans, you know?”

Locals don’t go to Bourbon Street. But if they did, here’s where they’d end up. (Credit: John Elk III/Alamy)

6. The Best of Bourbon Street (from a local’s POV): Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar

When discussing Bourbon Street – the most iconic stretch in New Orleans’ gorgeous yet heavily-touristed French Quarter – Duhon quickly supplied: “Locals don’t go to Bourbon Street.” However, he does like Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar – a piano bar housed in an early 18th-Century slate-roofed blacksmith’s shop believed to be the first building to be used as a bar in the United States.

“You start on Canal Street, and you walk down Bourbon and it’s a party, it’s a party, it’s a party,” said Duhon. “About three blocks after that party starts to recede, there’s one bar left, just about three or four blocks. They do have a candlelit piano in the back so occasionally you will find music in there. But it is a place where locals will go to have a drink. It’s a great place for Mardi Gras day to convene.”

Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop – believed to have been used as a pirates’ and smugglers’ den in the 1700s – has survived several fires and is widely believed to be haunted. “But that’s a special spot,” said Duhon. “It existed long before electricity so it kind of feels like they’re trying to keep that up. It’s very dark in there with candles and whatnot.”

Website: 941 Bourbon Street, New Orleans LA 70116
Phone: (504) 593-9761
Instagram: @lafittesblacksmithshopbar

Preservation Hall near Bourbon Street is the home of New Orleans jazz history as well as the Pres Hall Band, which plays nightly shows (Credit: BHammond/Alamy)

7. Best Place to Feel the Ghosts of New Orleans Jazz History: Preservation Hall

To continue communing with New Orleans spirits, head a little further afield of Bourbon Street and find Preservation Hall in the French Quarter – Duhon’s pick for a place where you can feel the ghosts of NOLA musicians past.

“Haunted would be the wrong word,” said Duhon. “I would say [it’s] probably the place where you can most feel that history… it’s the one place I would say near Bourbon Street that is unadulterated by the tourism. [It’s] the home of New Orleans jazz.”

Preservation Hall has hosted nightly jazz shows since 1961, and is home to the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. “All of the guys in that band, the Pres Hall Band, their life’s work is New Orleans jazz,” said Duhon. “And Preservation Hall is where it’s preserved, as the name suggests, but if you’re looking for a best place to feel the history, that’s the spot. And they have, like, three shows a night. It’s very good.” 

Website: 726 Saint Peter Street, New Orleans, LA 70116
Phone: (504) 522-2841
Instagram: @preservationhall

The Tigermen Den is the youngest venue on Duhon’s whistlestop tour of NOLA live music venues, but it’s no less steeped in local music history (Credit: William Morgan/Alamy)

8. Best New(ish) Venue: The Tigermen Den

Duhon loves his tried-and-true NOLA’s iconic music venues, but every now and then, he makes a discovery in his own hometown. “Just a couple of weeks ago, I went to see a group of songwriters each take a set at a place called The Tigermen Den,” said Duhon. “A corner building that I didn’t know was a venue, but [I walked] through the gate and into this beautiful little patio where the owner of the building was serving cocktails.”

The Tigermen Den in the Bywater, housed in a former Creole dry goods store dating back to 1830, has been used as a music venue since 2011 and now also functions as a community cultural centre. But Duhon believes the musical ghosts of New Orleans are busily at play. “Inside it was like walking into a building from 100 years ago,” he said. “And we all just sat in a room and listened to people with guitars sing their songs, one after the other. And it was beautiful.” Duhon paused to add: “It felt like New Orleans.”

Website: 3113 Royal Street, New Orleans LA 70117
Phone: (504) 230-0131
Instagram: @the_tigermen_den

BBC Travel’s The SpeciaList is a series of guides to popular and emerging destinations around the world, as seen through the eyes of local experts and tastemakers.

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