Trans-Iberian

Trans-Iberian

Covering everything from the major news of the week and burning social issues, to expat living and la vida local, EL PAÍS’ team of English-language bloggers offers its opinions, observations and analysis on Spain and beyond.

The perils of being a busker in Madrid

Por: | 03 de septiembre de 2014

“It’s taken away the essence of the streets”

I’m sitting in El Gato Verde in Lavapiés talking to Dario, the flautist from one of Madrid’s most recognisable busking bands: The Swingdigentes. Playing tight (original) songs with break dance dancers and a nice line in audience repartee they are an act that has been honed on the streets. Dario, with his long black hair, winning smile and finely tuned flute chops is one of the most recognisable musicians on Madrid’s street scene.

 Two months ago in the Circulo de los Bellas Artes on Gran Vía The Swingdigentes headlined a night called Las Noches Bárbaras. The night is an annual celebration of street music. The irony is that The Swingdigentes are seen less and less on Madrid’s streets these days. They have been pushed to the fringes; one of many victims of the council’s decision to require buskers to carry a license and to ban the use of amplifiers and percussion.

Madrid originally considered banning busking completely. Instead they held the now infamous auditions in Conde Duque. Musicians had five minutes to convince two musicians and a member of the council that they were good enough to play on Madrid’s streets. The musicians on the panel were recruited from local conservatories. ‘They seemed very nice’ Dario says ‘but they had no experience of playing on the streets.’

 The combination of being judged by an unknown panel of judges with no relation to the street scene, the classification by the regulation of the music that they were playing as ‘noise’ to be regulated and the sheer emotional objection to the regulation meant that many street musicians didn’t even apply for the authorisation.

Since coming over three years ago from Mexico with his orchestra, Dario has supported himself by playing on the streets. Despite this he was one of the buskers who refused to apply for the licenses. His refusal is not that of the dilettante who didn’t fancy giving up an afternoon in the sun. It is the result of a deeply held objection to the regulation of street music by the authorities. What The Busking Project: a website dedicated to helping the busking community has described as the “wholesale privatisation of our public spaces” 

Of course, Madrid is not the only city in Spain to clamp down on buskers. The Swingdigentes have racked up at least twenty fines in their travels around Spain. In Ibiza their instruments were confiscated with the police demanding 240€ per instrument for their return. A crippling fine for anyone who makes their living playing in the street. It could have been even worse; the band managed to convince the police that the percussionist’s cymbal was part of the saxophone and thus avoided a separate charge for a further instrument. An amusing anecdote, but one that illustrates the disconnect between the musicians and the law enforcers.  Dario tells me in contrast the police in Madrid are not quite so heavy-handed and generally just move them along.

 Indeed, a brief walk through the centre of Madrid is enough to confirm that busking hasn’t been eradicated, not even close. But it has noticeably decreased and without any tangible increase in quality. As Dario says: “The people are the judges, if you are no good, you won’t get any money”  

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Authors (Bloggers)

Chris Finnigan is a freelance journalist based in Barcelona. He writes for Barcelona Metropolitan and is a book reviewer and reader for The Barcelona Review. He is a graduate of the London School of Economics. You can find him on twitter @chrisjfinnigan

Ben Cardew is a freelance journalist, translator and teacher, now resident in Barcelona after growing up gracefully in Scotland via Norwich. He writes for The Guardian, the NME and The Quietus, among others, on everything from music to digital media. You can find him on Twitter @bencardew

Fiona Flores Watson is a freelance journalist, guide and translator who has lived in Seville since 2003, and has been a writer and editor for more than 20 years. She writes for the Guardian, Telegraph and Sunday Times Travel Magazine. Originally from Essex, Fiona is also Consulting Editor of Andalucia.com and has her own blog, Scribbler in Seville. She has been contributing to Trans-Iberian since 2014 and tweets at @Seville_Writer

Jeff Brodsky is a freelance writer. He arrived in Barcelona in 2013 via an admittedly indirect route, living in Chicago, Arizona, Seville, Amsterdam, North Carolina and Madrid. Despite not having stepped foot in Seville for over five years, he still speaks Spanish with an Andalusian accent. Jeff’s writing has been published in newspapers and magazines in America and Europe.

Koren Helbig is an Australian freelance journalist and blogger enjoying a life of near-eternal sunshine in Alicante. She writes for publications in Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom, focusing on stories exploring smart and positive approaches to social issues. She hangs out on Twitter at @KorenHelbig and keeps a selection of her favourite stories at korenhelbig.com.

Julie Pybus lives in a small off-grid house on a hillside in Catalunya. She usually focuses on helping charities and social enterprises with their publications and websites, but has also written for The Guardian, Country Living and The Observer. Julie launched and runs a hyperlocal website which endeavors to increase understanding between the different nationalities in her area perelloplus.com. @JuliePybus

Paul Louis Archer is a freelance photographer, multimedia storyteller and artist educator. A cross-disciplinary worker, who endeavors to encompass the mediums of photography, audio design and writing. Born in Hertfordshire of an English father and Spanish mother. Based in the United Kingdom. @PaulLouisArcher

Vicki McLeod is a freelance writer and photographer. She has lived in Mallorca since 2004. Vicki writes about her beloved island for The Majorca Daily Bulletin, the only daily English language paper in Spain; produces regular columns for the Euro Weekly News, and articles for Spain-Holiday.com. Vicki runs PR strategies for several businesses in Mallorca and London as well as working on her own blogs and projects. She and her husband, Oliver Neilson, supply photo and text content for private clients via @phoenixmediamlr. She tweets at @mcleod_vicki.

Born in Newcastle upon Tyne and based in Barcelona, Alx Phillips writes about contemporary art, dance and theatre in a way that human beings can understand. For more previews, reviews, interviews and extras, check: www.lookingfordrama.com.

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