Material for the Artist: Tram Buskers Interviewed

17/03/2016

Helsinki’s tram routes will echo with music until Saturday, March 19, when buskers from various parts of the world perform at the invitation of the artist Kateřina Šedá. The first tram buskers to arrive in Helsinki met each other in IHME’s offices the day before the tour. The artists from different backgrounds, all sitting around the same table, were united by the experience of busking.

Not only timeless hits

The Festival office is filled with happy chatter, laughter and anticipation. Greetings, introductions and questions fly back and forth across the table in different languages: Do you play in the street full-time? How do you get a licence for the London Underground? Once names have been put to the new faces, it swiftly becomes clear that this bunch have a lot of other things to share.

“I ended up playing in the street when I realized that I could pay my way through university with the income from busking,” says Sybren Renema, a sculptor who moved from Leiden in The Netherlands to Scotland. “At night, in the city centre of Glasgow it doesn’t really matter what I play. Drunken people don’t mind if I play Charlie Parker to them,” he says.

Steve Aruni, who plays on the London Underground, goes along with only part of his colleague’s experience. “Busking can be really boring,” Aruni exclaims. “Playing the same two songs for four hours a day, because they are the ones that make the money. People only take 30 seconds to come past. I got stuck with Somewhere Over the Rainbow and Always look on the Bright Side of Life – both beautiful songs, until you’ve played them four thousand times.” The Tour is a welcome digression from the playlist that he repeats day after day. “It’s so nice to be here and do something refreshing – to play whatever I want,” he says, and Renema immediately suggests a four-day Black Sabbath tribute. “Yes, Napalm Death,” Aruni quips.

“We play in Brno in the Czech Republic and there’s a folk music group dressed in traditional costumes, whereas our music isn’t of great interest to the people in our city,” conservatory student Ester Švábková of The Entropies duo laughs.

Living material for an artist

Busking experiences are important to all our Festival guests. The Slovakian twins Tamara and Tatiana Baňková’s encounters with the public give them energy. “After school, feeling tired and under pressure, we go to busk on the street and get so many smiles from strangers,” say the two who live and perform in Prague as the TBeeGirls duo.

For Soheil Shadloo of The Entropies duo busking also means the freedom to express himself. “I was a musician for 12 years in a country where the kind of music I like couldn’t be played,” says the Iranian musician, who first moved to Georgia and then to Brno. “In Iran, the police could get into a concert, arrest all the people and confiscate the instruments.”

On the Tour the musicians will decide themselves what music they will perform, but at the same time they are part of the overall project created by Kateřina Šedá. “Here I’m material for the artist – living and speaking material,” Renema, who also makes contemporary art, laughs to himself.

The musicians taking part in the tour are listed here. Follow us on Facebook for images posted from the Tour!