RBSG: Em Lisboa Marcelo Beraldo

The Big Apple’s cultural scene is intense wherever you go, especially in the underground stations where 4 million people pass through everyday. New York’s stations are full of musicians that make their living by playing there, something that Marcelo Beraldo - who idealized the I International Metro Musicians Festival in partership with Red Bull - noticed at the time.

He came back to Brazil with only one thing in mind: he had to return to the city to investigate further the busker scene, the universe which inspired the 1st International Metro Musicians Festival. It was no coincidence that he chose New York to begin his journey around the world between July and November 2009. In this interview he tells us, amongst other things, the reasons behind it.

Q. What role did New York City play in your trip?

Marcelo Beraldo: New York was the starting point because I knew I was going to find what I was looking for there: musicians playing at underground stations. According to the first amendment of the American Constitution, which defends the freedom of expression, anyone can express themselves in public spaces as long as it respects other citizens. So as the years went by, musicians looking to make their living by playing took over all of New York’s underground stations.

New York’s own Subway organization created the MUNY (Music Under New York), an official program that certificates musicians to perform in underground stations. Once a year, they hold auditions over a weekend. Those that are approved in these auditions become registered musicians of the New York City Subway, with priorities and benefits over other musicians.

Q. Is it true you filmed your entire journey?

MB: Yes, I bought a camera in New York. In fact I learned how to use the camera and edit videos over those 4 months. During this trip around the world, I filmed the day to day of underground stations in several cities and spoke to many authorities as well as many underground musicians that I met along my way. At the same time, I was producing short videos, approximately 2 minutes in length, which I uploaded to YouTube and sent to some friends in Brazil that did not really know what I was doing. The videos had fragments of these interviews and images from the trip. Little by little, I began to develop an idea of something that would promote the busking culture, the underground station musician, and that was how the Red Bull Sounderground, the First International Festival of Underground Station Musicians was born.

Q. In which cities are the busking culture and underground musicians more developed?

MB: New York, without a shadow of doubt, is the biggest reference because of the intense presence and quality of the musicians and because they developed MUNY. But I should also mention Paris, London, Seoul, Barcelona and Montreal, all of which have official projects set up by their respective underground organizations.

In fact, in Montreal, the underground musicians are the ones who regularize their activity. For example, everybody knows that to play in the best spots, it is first come, first serve. The underground simply points out where those places are and everyone respects it.

Generally, the cities with the most musicians playing in the underground are those that have an intense artistic movement in the streets and it is not a coincidence that this happens in countries with a long tradition of democracy and freedom.

Q. Where did you find it most difficult to capture this universe?

MB: Firstly, in cities where there are no official programs for musicians because I could not find any preliminary information on the internet. Even in places where there is no formal authorization for musicians to perform at underground stations, their presence is tolerated; in Moscow and Beijing this occurs in a very discreet form whilst in Madrid this tolerance is higher.

Moscow and Beijing made it difficult to search for musicians due to the size and characteristics of the underground system, the lack of a tradition of freedom in these countries and the reclusive nature of the people.

In other cities, I simply did not find anything, either because the musicians are rare like in Lisbon or because there is no tolerance towards them like in Tokyo (the biggest underground of the world) and in Hong Kong.

Q. How many cities did you go to?

MB: I went to 17 cities altogether, including the top 10 cities with the largest underground systems in the world. In chronological order, I went to New York, London, Amsterdam, Paris, Barcelona, Madrid, Lisbon, Moscow, St. Petersburg, Helsinki, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Osaka, Beijing, Seoul, Mexico City and Montreal.

Q. What is the relation of the audience with the underground musician?

MB: First of all, I noticed, filmed and heard accounts from authorities that administrate the underground system that the audience reaction is directly proportional to the quality of the musicians. Since people use the underground for to move around rather than to listen to music, it is the perfect place for the artist to experiment. The response of the public is immediate even if they know nothing about music. Good music reaches for the heart. So if there is quality, people will stop to listen carefully for a few minutes. If the musician is not good even his mother will not waste her time.

Some underground stations carry out user-satisfaction surveys. On average, 95% of people strongly approve of the presence of musicians. This same public, however, does not like musicians playing inside the wagon during the trip. Musicians are allowed to play in allocated places like underground station mezzanines but never on the platform or in the wagon. For these reasons, we’ll be sticking to the same rules for the Red Bull Sounderground.

Another important discovery from the surveys is that the perception of passengers’ safety is improved with the presence of musicians. For example, a woman arrives at night in a practically empty station. When there’s a musician there, she feels a lot more protected. And if there is someone suspicious in the station, this person will think twice before doing anything. I sent the videos of the interviews and this interesting information to the Underground of São Paulo.

I should also mention the reaction of the children. I saw their reaction and filmed it in several cities. They are the first to stop and listen to the music, making their parents slow down too. And they are always the last to leave.

Q. What does the underground station’s environment offer for musicians?

MB: With the exception of the streets, underground stations are the biggest public spaces of any metropolis in the world. The stations offer direct contact with the audience without any interference. Thus, the artists have the largest potential crowd of a city. Many of them make their living with tips and selling CDs in the stations. Some of them even make a lot of money.

Furthermore, the underground might be the best stage for those who want to become professional musicians. The underground is an environment where the artist can truly experiment. That is why it is so important to highlight this universe and encourage the development of this particular scene where it doesn’t exist, like in São Paulo. Many famous musicians such as Eric Clapton, Ben Harper, Madeleine Peyroux and Fela Kuti played in underground stations when they were young.

Q. Do you believe that promoting this debate is the main role of the Red Bull Sounderground?

MB: Certainly. As the festival is international, it will stir up this debate not only here in Brazil but also in other places that should be aware of this culture, even where it already exists. After all it is a unique festival in the world. Never before has there been an event that brought together underground musicians from all over the world in one place. That is why I’m grateful for the support of Red Bull and the Underground of São Paulo, especially the director Aluízio Gibson, the coordinator of Ação Cultural Sandra Theodozio and Danilo Martire, the culture manager. I also believe in the role that music plays in the transformation of people’s lives on a daily basis. For instance, I would love to go to Sé Station and see an office boy appreciating a classical music trio from the Moscow underground.

Q. Do you intend to take the same trip in the near future to see what changes there have been since your idea became a festival? Have you thought about this at all?

MB: I don’t think that I’ll have another opportunity to take this trip again, but my goal is that the Red Bull Sounderground holds regular editions in other cities around the world and I want to be a part of them when this happens.


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