On the corner of the street, by the stairs of an old monument, or in the underground subway tunnels: in almost every major city, street musicians fill the air with their passionate songs. When I hear them from afar, I always welcome their melodies. I usually slow my pace when I walk by, or sometimes stop for a moment and listen. Most of all, I’ve always appreciated how street musicians can instantly liven up our concrete jungles, but I’ve also wondered what it must be like. How much courage does it take to choose the city as your stage, and how does it feel to put yourself out there on the street?
Recently, I reached out on Instagram to see if any street musicians would be interested in sharing their story. Thankfully, Italian guitarist and singer Stefano Rosa responded! I asked my friends what kind of things they’ve always wanted to ask a busker. Together, we thought of 14 burning questions. Stefano Rosa answered them all in this interview with a street musician.
An Interview with a Street Musician: Stefano Rosa Tells All
Roselinde: Who inspired you to become a musician?
Stefano: Basically, I grew up in a family of musicians. My mother has taught music at school for years and my brother is a professional pianist. I’ve breathed music since I was born. What made me think about being a musician for the rest of my life was all that music that I started to listen to when I was about 13 years old. I literally fell in love with punkrock and rock music in general (Blink182, Green Day, Muse and so on).
The City as My Stage
Roselinde: What were your main reasons for choosing the city as your stage?
Stefano: I’ve been playing shows in clubs, cafés, and theatres for 15 years now. What disgusts me the most about playing in clubs is that I have to “bring” people to my gig, I have to satisfy owner’s taste, I rarely earn the money I asked for and most of the people that are in the club don’t give a damn about what I’m doing. Playing on the street means freedom, peacefulness. I feel myself totally dropped into society.
Playing on the street means freedom, peacefulness. Everything that comes to me, whether it’s words of praise or a smile from a baby, I know it’s totally true, they really meant it.
I decide when and where I have to play, I decide what to play and if I’d like, I will play the same song again. There’s no one telling me what I have to do. I am simply offering what I am, what I’m able to do and everyone feels free to join my moment or to simply keep walking. Everything that comes to me, whether it’s words of praise or a smile from a baby, I know it’s totally true, they really meant it. This is why I’ve decided to make busking the most important way to experience music.
200 Shows on the Street
Roselinde: How long have you been making music on the streets and which instruments do you play?
Stefano: I’m a singer and a guitarist. I prefer to consider myself a guitarist first of all. I started singing just because I had to if I wanted to make music by myself in a more complete way. It’s almost 3 years now. The first show on the street was on february 8th of 2015. I clearly remember that day, all the emotions that I felt. In 3 years I’ve played almost 200 shows on the street.
Roselinde: Do you usually perform alone or together with other musicians?
Stefano: I often play alone. I shared the street also with some friends occasionally but I sincerely prefer to play alone because I have my own way to perform and to consider the art of busking. I love to feel completely free about what concerns playing music and living the whole busking adventure.
Traveling to Different Cities as a Street Musician
Roselinde: Where do you usually perform? Do you travel a lot or do you stay in one area?
Stefano: I usually play in the cities of northern Italy (Milan, Brescia, Cremona, Bergamo, Lake Garda). In August 2016 I did an Italian tour from the North to the South, playing 22 shows in 21 days and driving over 4000 kilometres. I also like to do some very short tours in the weekend. As soon as my new camper van is ready, I will definitely travel more and more.
Roselinde: What is your absolute favourite spot to perform, in one or multiple cities?
Stefano: Last spring, I fell in love with Riva Del Garda, a jewel on the top of Lake Garda. I’ve spent some of the most amazing nights of my life there. It’s a chilly, calm and beautiful town that gives so much hospitality. The people there really love the kind of music that I play, and they are very attentive to every aspect of art. I also enjoy the atmosphere of small villages where I’m the weirdest thing that could happen on a regular day. People who live in small villages are very careful and interested in what I’m doing.
I also enjoy the atmosphere of small villages where I’m the weirdest thing that could happen on a regular day. People who live in small villages are very careful and interested in what I’m doing.
Laughter and Applause
Roselinde: How much time do you spend performing in the streets?
Stefano: I usually play twice a week for a total of 6 hours.
Roselinde: What is it like to play music in an environment that is full of other urban sounds? Does it add something to the performance, or does it make it more challenging to play?
Stefano: Urban sounds obviously make it a bit harder for me to play. Silence or quiteness are essential to the good result of the performance. The only sound that doesn’t annoy me at all is the laughter or clapping of a kid.
Learning Life Lessons from Performing in the Streets
Roselinde: What is the most important (life) lesson or skill that you have learned from being a street musician?
Stefano: I’ve always been very shy and even if music helped me a lot throughout all these years, I still feel that little feeling of awkwardness while I’m playing in front of someone else. Actually, I think it’s pretty much the same for every musician on Earth, but everyone lives this in his own way. Being a street musician taught me to be tougher but, on the other hand, also calmer. I simply think that I’m doing what I love the most and in my own way. What people think doesn’t have to affect me too much, especially if somebody thinks or acts negatively. I give a lot of respect to the people who chose to do what they love no matter what people say or who society doesn’t want you to be.
What You Love to Play is not Always What You Love to Listen to
Roselinde: What is your personal musical style? Do you ever consciously play certain songs or styles that you know the audience (perhaps dependent on the location) will have a better response to?
Stefano: As I said before, I grew up listening to rock music. Punkrock especially is the genre that I still prefer among all. What I love to play is not always what I love to listen. I really love to play acoustic music. When I started to play just acoustic guitar in 2010, I realised that it was my instrument. I play songs by The Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel, Bob Dylan, Coldplay, Paolo Nutini and some Italian songwriters. Of course, I also play songs of mine which people seem to enjoy. If the audience is young, I prefer to play recent songs. If the audience is older I play songs from the ’60s or ’70s, but they seem to enjoy recent songs too.
I was playing in Carpi, beautiful town, while a very old woman came up next to me. She put a beautiful silk handkerchief next to the guitar case and placed a coin upon it. I can’t even describe what kind of emotions went through my body. That deed was so powerful, kind, inspiring and full of respect that I nearly cried.
Interacting with the Audience
Roselinde: What was the most wonderful or crazy audience interaction you’ve had as a street musician?
Stefano: The most beautiful moment I experienced happened on August 4th of 2016. I had just started my Italian tour and I was playing in Carpi, beautiful town, while a very old woman came up next to me and put a beautiful silk handkerchief next to the guitar case and placed a coin upon it. I can’t even describe what kind of emotions went through my body. That deed was so powerful, kind, inspiring and full of respect that I nearly cried. I’m writing a song about this by the way. I also remember of a couple of British girls in Piazza Duomo in Milan who started dancing, throwing colourful paper hearts all around me. It was very touching and fun.
Roselinde: Perhaps you already saw this question coming! What was the most uncomfortable or weirdest audience interaction you’ve had a street musician?
Stefano: Yes, I also had to deal with some crazy people. A drunk homeless in Genova literally kicked my guitar case and everything that was inside went on the ground. Another drunk man in Pisa kept moving the microphone away from my mouth because he said that I was stealing his area. Actually I find these episodes very funny and I don’t ever get annoyed.
Hardships and Motivations
Roselinde: What is most difficult about being a street musician?
Stefano: I don’t find anything difficult enough to put me in real discomfort. I love everything about street music. It’s a new way of living that I had the pleasure to discover and I’m enjoying every single aspect of this. I could probably tell you what could be difficult for a musician who has never experienced street music. You have to deal with a lot of outgoings (fuel, toll, food, batteries for amplifier, guitar and pedals, possible fees) and with the society in its entirety. The good result of the performance also depends on the weather.
I have the chance to travel and to see some really nice places. Experiencing the street lets me open my mind. I can learn more and more about what it’s like to be an inhabitant of the Earth and the Universe. I want to feed myself with emotions, sights, sounds, words, precious moments with someone I love or some unknown people. This really makes my day.
Opening Up Your Mind
Roselinde: What is the most important thing you want to achieve as a street musician, what motivates you the most?
Stefano: I really want to grow as a human being. Being on the street allows me to deal with many different people. I can share some amazing moments with people I love, or people I don’t even know. I have the chance to travel and to see some really nice places. Experiencing the street lets me open my mind. I can learn more and more about what it’s like to be an inhabitant of the Earth and the Universe. I want to feed myself with emotions, sights, sounds, words, precious moments with someone I love or some unknown people. This really makes my day.
Are you a street performer yourself and would you like to share your story on Globonaut as well? Send us a message and we’ll get in touch!