In the “land of drizzle”, it’s the customer that chooses the song.
With money and culture running through its veins, São Paulo has an effervescent and democratic music scene but which is still distant from metro stations. Of all cities, the Red Bull Sounderground, 1st International Metro Musicians Festival chose this one as its home for the month of November.
São Paulo, the cultural and financial capital of Brazil, is exactly like the people that live in it: a complete mixture. There are people from Bahia, Rio Grande do Sul, Piauí, Angola, Lebanon, Italy, Japan and even… São Paulo. No matter where they’ve come from, they are all welcomed with open arms, and sooner or later end up establishing roots in this chaotic metropolis.
This mishmash is also reflected in the music scene, with gig spaces that range from underground clubs to large music venues. Schedules are packed seven days a week and is guaranteed to please even the strangest of tastes. After all, with over more than 10 million citizens, there’s an audience for everything.
You can enjoy some good old rock’n’roll, listen to a friendly chorinho in a square, go to a classical music concert and even pull some shapes in one of the many clubs playing dance music, funk or pop music across the city. Natives and immigrants alike, the people of São Paulo are proud of the plurality that allows differences to live side by side. Just consider the samba bands in the centre that live peacefully next to Goths at the Galeria do Rock.
When it comes to street music, however, things aren’t quite up to scratch, perhaps from a lack of security or financial and moral support. There are times, of course, when you can be surprised by musicians blasting out Beatles’ covers around Consolação Street or bumping into an accordion player by Ibirapuera Park. But if there’s one thing you can always count, it’s the Peruvians and their pan pipes at Praça da Sé and the Virada Cultural.
Metro stations and trains, on the other hand, are in a league of their own. Despite their continual growth to better serve the millions of passengers every day, it is still possible to take full advantage of the cultural activities on offer. There are exhibitions, artistic interventions, public libraries and depending on where you are, it’s just a train ride away from the Pinacoteca, the São Paulo Cultural Centre, the Portuguese Language Museum and the MASP… But where is the music?
In metro stations, the only sounds you’ll hear are the almost-mechanical announcements informing passengers of the next station or asking them not to litter. Metro station musicians, or buskers, are scarce. Alright, to give them some credit, there are a few official initiatives but all have set times, such as Seis na Sé (Six O’Clock at Sé) that lulls the crowd with a little bit of music (there are even those who try their hand at forró dancing) or the wide-ranging lineup of Santa Cecília metro station that’s always worth a look.
The real spontaneity can be found in the street pianos, waiting for the first brave men willing to play them. You don’t need to play very well, you just need a yearning to be the soundtrack of those around you for a few moments.
The crowds that gather around these instruments show us that the void of buskers in São Paulo can’t be blamed for a lack of attention or space. Be it an excuse to escape from the sea of cars or just to please some maltreated ears, a little music is always welcome. And even if it’s only for a few minutes, it’s enough to give some colour to the the grey routine in the “land of drizzle”.
The Red Bull Sounderground, 1st International Metro Musicians Festival is just around the corner and has chosen São Paulo as its home. Will Brazil finally change its attitude towards buskers?