When planning a trip to Europe there are innumerable travel guides giving an overture to Europe’s museums, castles, nightclubs, travel with euro rail and luxurious getaways. What one hardly finds is an opening to one of the ubiquitous, not quite hidden joys to be found in the obscure corners of Europe – The street artists.
Since the late 1980s this burgeoning art form has become the claim to fame for many neighborhoods in various European cities. Considered illegal even today, these daring artists across the continent remain mostly a mystery. There are many, along the likes of famous street artist Banksy, who even have celebrities clamoring to get their work. The street artists operate under the cover of darkness, to get their artistic message created before the crack of dawn.
Street art, by definition is art done in public spaces communicating the artist’s message to the people. Taking on a number of different forms such as, graffiti, video, stickers, posters, flash mobs, painting, music, mime and dance (however here it’s referred to street musicians) across Europe. Creative geniuses play their hearts out on an instrument hoping for a Euro or two to be dropped into their open case, can or hat.
Street performers or Street musicians are also referred to as buskers who are usually musicians, but can also be actors, clowns, tarot card readers, mimes or dancers.
There is a definite societal split in favour of or against buskers. Some people support buskers and find that they add cultural flavor and art to the otherwise dull streets of Europe. Many also feel that they make them more artsy and provide for a more enjoyable experience. Sadly, some view busking as a lowly, hungry practice reserved for the homeless, beggars and unsuccessful performers.
As I reflect on my European travel, those simple musical moments remain vivid in my memory even today. I remember an evening at the Preseren square in the midst of Slovenia’s beauty. A street artist from Amsterdam enamored me with his voice and Leonard Cohen and Bob Marley songs. For me, the real highlight of the entire trip was the musical performances and laudable free concerts that filled the air with magic. These gifted people who the world is unaware of touch many lives that just come sit there on the street, or sidewalk, or handrail, and listen.
When one travels with open ears and eyes, the culture, history, geography, and ambience of Europe slowly takes over and rejuvenates one’s intellect and capacity. The music has stayed with me longer than anything I’ve heard or seen. Violins, Oboes, bassoons, trumpets, fender stratocasters, clarinets, harps and even some not so common instruments, can still be intriguing if the artist knows how and what to play. Discovering a unique musician playing in the cobble stone streets of Trieste in Italy, trying to converse with me in Italian (of which I just got few words), is a memory that will last forever, and I think to this day I did not tip him nearly enough for what he meant to me.
Some performances turned out to be utterly enchanting and far beyond expectations, as when the violinist in the boat touring Lake Annecy in France played, across the lake, bouncing the sound, echoing it, stirring it and mixing it with other notes across the lake, until the air was full of evocative music that still peers from around the corners of my memory.
The many street artists spread across Europe were a reflection of contented lives sharing their art with people from across boundaries visiting them. The musicians are not distant professionals, on an inaccessible stage. They are real people, happy to share their craft with a distant traveler.