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Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Músicos Callejeros

Músicos Callejeros (street musicians)

I have wanted to be a street musician in Europe since my first trip here as a college sophomore on a summer school program in Dijon, France. Another kid in the program played guitar and sang. He would sit in the courtyard of the Pompidou Center in Paris and play. He was a very good blues musician and he did pretty well, well enough to pay for his bar-hopping later in the evening. Another friend of mine in Seattle plays classical guitar and he will sometimes play in the street just for kicks. Once again, he's pretty damn good and he did pretty well on his street gigs. I think this is just about the coolest thing in the world and about the remotest thing in the world for me. I can't sing very well and I don't have the best of relations with my chosen musical instrument.

I remember several years ago I had just arrived in Paris from Amsterdam. I got on the metro from the Gare du Nord and a couple of gypsies entered the car and started playing violin and accordion. It was so utterly Parisian that I almost cried. Instead I butched-up and gave them a few coins. I think that I must be one of the few people in the world who actually loves accordion music.

Here in Valencia we have our fair share of street musicians. The kid in the photograph plays a great renaissance recorder. There are lots of gypsy-types playing accordion. I have found that most of the older accordionists you encounter in the street don't speak Spanish. If you want to know the name of a song they are playing you have a better chance of just pulling the name out of thin air than actually communicating with the musician.

I almost always give money to street musicians and sometimes I will even sit and listen to them if they are good. I was in a café listening to an old gypsy play when he played an old tango that I recognized but the name escaped me. I asked him and met with a formidable language barrier that I couldn't cross with any of the dialects I can manage. Luckily, one of the other café patrons recognized the name of the song as La Cumparsita made famous by Carlos Gardel. The old gypsy couldn't tell me the name of the song but he played it for me again. I haven't seen him around lately so I imagine he does what it is gypsies do best, he has moved on.

I saw a program on television the other night about a group of young street performers who live in an abandoned medieval village. Some of them perform acrobatics but most of the vagabonds are musicians who travel all around Europe throughout the year when they aren't squatting in the abandoned village. It looked like a terribly romantic life and something I'd probably like to try right up until I need a good, hot shower (or internet access). I also lack the required skills to make a living on the street.

You don't see many street pianists. I could probably push my piano into the hall and take it down to the street on the elevator. It would be a pain in the ass but I could actually do it. I certainly have heard worse music being played in the street than you'll hear coming from my instrument. I think what I'd really like to do is try my hand at the accordion. I'm not kidding. How hard could it be to play an accordion? The hardest part is convincing your friends your not some sort of spaz.

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