Madrid's Street Performers Now Must Audition To Hold Out A Hat

Play associated audio

On the train, in the park, on the famed medieval Plaza Mayor — the Spanish capital of Madrid is famous for its street performers.

And with more than a quarter of Spaniards out of work, more people than ever before have been crisscrossing the city with their violins and voices, for extra cash. People squeeze giant accordions onto the metro, and roll amplifiers on carts across cobblestones.

The street performers are a tourist attraction. But Madrid's mayor, Ana Botella, says the clamor has reached its limit.

A new noise reduction law that took effect New Year's Day prohibits amplifiers and requires buskers to move along every two hours and stay 75 yards away from the next crooner.

Musicians also must now pass an audition to be granted a free, one-year renewable permit to perform outdoors. Those who don't pass muster could face fines for disturbing the peace.

Musicians who've been fiddling, singing and strumming for money here for years — without needing permits — are angry.

"People know this city because of its life! Its nightlife, day life, music on the streets, happy people!" says pianist and singer Laura Nadal, 30, one of more than 300 buskers forced to audition at Madrid's Conde Duque Cultural Center. "We don't know why the city mayor wants us to be sad, and to not do art."

The mayor, for her part, says she's received complaints about noise pollution from residents of Madrid's tight medieval center, where music reverberates off stone facades and down cobblestone alleys.

"We want to offer the best impression possible to tourists, and allow local residents to get their rest, too," David Erguido, a Madrid city councilman, told reporters.

For the 26 percent of Spaniards who are unemployed, the idea of having to apply for a permit to merely sing in the street is an insult.

"The street is the only place where you can go [if you're out of work]. So if you can't sing in the street now, what are you going to do?" asks Gerardo Yllera, 33, who together with Nadal forms the Potato Omelette Band, which performs in English and Spanish on the streets of Madrid.

The Potato Omelette Band used a hidden camera to secretly videotape their audition for a busking permit. The video went viral on Spanish social media because of their lyrics — criticizing Madrid's mayor and her policies.

"Oh, my poor Madrid, my city. They are kicking out musicians and artists, and replacing them with police," the song goes. "There is no jury better than the hat — the hat you put on the floor to collect donations."

That stealth video has been viewed several hundred thousand times on YouTube. Nadal and Yllera have become local celebrities — the faces of opposition to Madrid's noise reduction law. Their street performances draw crowds now.

At one impromptu concert in Madrid's central Puerta del Sol square, the duo dedicated their performance to Madrid's mayor. They had reason to be thankful. They'd just received good news: They were granted a one-year permit to perform in Madrid's streets.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit


'Weiner' Offers A Riveting, Close-Up View Of A Scandal In Progress

In 2013, a documentary team followed former Congressman Anthony Weiner in his bid to become mayor of New York. When a scandal hit, the cameras kept rolling. Film critic David Edelstein reviews Weiner.

Chef Eddie Huang On Cultural Identity And 'Intestine Sticky Rice Hot Dog'

Huang and his brothers, Evan and Emery, headed to China to reconnect with their culture, to eat lots and lots of food — and to cook. He's documented his travels in his new book, Double Cup Love.

Late-Night Host Jimmy Kimmel Is Negotiating A Presidential Debate. It Makes Sense

Just after Bernie Sanders thanked Kimmel for possibly securing the debate last night, Kimmel made a Batman vs. Superman joke about Democratic superdelegates.

Hokule'a, The Hawaiian Canoe Traveling The World By A Map Of The Stars

A voyaging canoe built to revive the centuries-old tradition of Hawaiian exploration is circumnavigating the globe. Its crew has already traveled 26,000 miles navigating with the sun, stars and waves.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.