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Navigating public transport for the first time in a new country is always unknown territory. On a recent trip to Barcelona, my travelling buddy and I (two self-declared country folk) decided to be brave and take the metro on our very first day in the city. Armed with our map and day passes and looking like the very epitome of tourists, we descended the steps into the metro expecting the hustle and bustle of an ordinary underground system. What we didn’t know is that we were going to stumble upon the unique musical culture of the Barcelonan metro. Sitting on our first train from where we were staying in Sants Estacio, we were travelling 5 stops to the Sagrada Familia, a beautiful Roman Catholic church designed by one of Barcelona’s famous sons Antoni Gaudí and one of the most visited cultural landmarks in Barcelona. At the second stop on our journey, a couple entered the carriage holding big items covered mysteriously with material. We were puzzled by what was happening but quickly went back to discussing our day’s itinerary. Then, all of a sudden, we were interrupted by the most beautiful music playing from the other end of carriage by that same couple whom it turned out had brought onto the train an accordion and cello. After finishing their song they walked through the carriage collecting money for their music and promptly left the train at the next stop.
Thus we were introduced to Barcelona busking. It should be noted that the word busker in fact actually comes from the Spanish word “buscar” meaning “to seek” as buskers are playing to seek both fame and fortune. Barcelona helps eliminate the stereotype of buskers being associated with homelessness, as the city is not only proud of such musicians but also encourages them to “seek” fame and fortune. The Transports Metropolitans de Barcelona started a project 12 years ago allowing suitable musicians to apply for licenses to play in the subway system. This project has transformed the Barcelonan metro into not only a means of transport but a hub to celebrate the musical culture of their city.
Our experience with buskers did not end with our first journey, we witnessed them both travelling on other train journeys throughout our visit and also in the underpasses entering the metro stations. We were even treated to a father and son duet of a Beatles medley on our train to the airport at the end of our trip which definitely earned the 3 euros I gave them. What struck me most about these musicians is that whilst they were playing to earn money from tourists such as myself, they all seemed so happy to be just sharing their music with the general public. One male accordion player on one journey played with so much joy that he caused the whole carriage to laugh along with him and to leave us all with a smile on our face and a story to tell. Many people remember their visit to Barcelona for the cultural landmarks such as Gaudi’s architecture or Plaça de Catalunya but if you ever find yourself in the city, make sure you check out the music of Barcelona’s underground.
By Adele May
The UoB Linguist Magazine
Guild of Students,
University of Birmingham