07 May 2005

a tribute to street musicians

baby can i hold you : orzo
click here to listen
listening time: 3m 20s

his name is orzo, and he's a street musician who played every night at ponte vecchio during our trip to florence last easter. on the evening we sat down on the sidewalk of the bridge, orzo received a visit from a policeman in a blue-and-white car. as if by routine, even before the cop could get out of the car, orzo pulled out pieces of paper from behind the chord sheets laid out on his music stand, walked over his guitar case which had just a handful of coins, and handed the papers over. the policeman leafed through them, gave them back, and left with a friendly salute. this is orzo's spot, the papers must have said, and what a perfect spot it was, getting more foot traffic at this late hour than any other corner of the historic quarter.

street musicians are everywhere, from plaza murillo in la paz to montmartre in paris to insadong in seoul. their presence in such diverse places is an affirmation of popular music as a universal language, touching universal feelings by provoking uniquely personal memories. (we all have stories about chiquitita, don't we?) street musicians don't always play with competence, but they always sing with passion. unfortunately that passion is lost on the majority of people who pass them by without a glance, or is only fleetingly shared by the passerby who drops a dollar, or hums along in his mind on his way to lunch. as a tourist i find them as a source of comfort. comfort that the city i'm alien to is friendly enough to have them. comfort through the familiarity of their songs in a land whose language i don't speak.

i've always been intrigued by street musicians, especially those who do it alone in a country not their own, like these guys. the one on the left is from the chatuchak market in bangkok, and to be honest i can't remember what song he was singing, though based on the way he looks it was probably dylan or cat stevens.

there must be elaborate stories behind them, but i've never had the courage to bother them and ask. what brought them to where they are? are they globetrotters saving up for their next destination? are they trying to escape from unpleasant circumstances at home? that's what i thought when i saw this other guy below in insadong in seoul. i thought he was russian, or from one of the caucasus states. i remember this shot very well. his pronunciation was so bad, i could barely make out a word. he was strumming, words were coming out of his mouth, but was he singing? and then, finally, something comprehensible: oh-wo-wow yesterday...

in any case, i tend to romanticize every street musician as the free spirit can only i wish to be.

that night on ponte vecchio, we shared the sidewalk with a group of 15 to 20 teenage tourists, probably eastern european, who insisted that one of them sing. orzo obliged, and the tourist sang shakira's underneath your clothes. she mimicked the colombian artist's voice very well, which means she probably shoved a ball of sock in her throat too. (no, i've never been impressed by shakira. well, okay, i like her mtv unplugged dig on ojos asi.) orzo obviously likes connecting with his audience. he performed other crowd-pleasers like u2's with or without you, which somehow morphed into the calling's wherever you will go, and america's horse with no name, which became fool's garden's lemon tree. the teenagers danced and sang to this tune. an old man (the one smoking in the picture at the top) started peddling orzo's cd, and since my significant other was having a good time, she insisted that i buy one. it cost 10 euros, quite expensive, but hey, we should all be supporting free spirits.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous5.5.08

    I believe I met this person on a bridge in florence last summer. He was very impressive. I have a video of him singing up on youtube if anyone is interested.