Music is Budapest’s common language – the voice of the street

We were walking in the city when we met Kornél. We asked him, how does street music work.

When and how did you start to be a street musician?

I started two years ago with it, it was out of compulsion actually. Back then I had a job and was living in an apartment, when my boss sentenced me a week constraint break because I went to work with a hangover once. I needed money and I sort of knew how to play music, so I went out on the streets and started to play. It all went so well that I decided to quit my job for music. That was the beginning.

So right now, this is your only job? Can you make a living out of it?

Yes. Of course, it is more risky. But it has more advantages actually; I do what I like, and it feels good. I can improve my skills, and practice a lot. It’s a real treasure, because you don’t always have time to do it at home.

How often do you have to go out to the streets to make a living?

I don’t really count it. When I need money, or there’s a bigger outlay, two or three times a week. Sometimes I don’t go out all week, only in the weekends when I realize I don’t have the necessary money for the apartment. I spend about 4 hours out playing my music, and that’s all. As you can see, it’s really unbound.

Are there places where you can earn more than elsewhere?

There are places where people pay me more, like Deák Square, where I have licence to play. But you know, weather can be tricky, so I usually play in the underpasses. Acoustics is way better there too, like a concert hall.

How can you handle the homeless people? They are competing with you, aren’t they?

Yes, they are, but usually I don’t really talk to them. Most of the time I shuffle them off, of course not in a rude way, but enough to let them know that I’m not interested in their wish list. Otherwise they set up a camp right beside me and start heavy drinking. Anyway, usually they don’t make any trouble. Sometimes they even like my music. For example, I have a good relationship with the punk group at Astoria. They’re cool, once they protected me when a stranger in Astoria’s underpass grabbed my money and tried to get away with it, so I like them very much.

You mentioned that an underpass is a better place to play because you don’t have to care about the weather. So you’re playing in the depth of winter too?

Yes, I am. Well, you have to dress up carefully, put on lots of layers, fingerless gloves, hat and scarf and everything. Actually the first two or three songs are always miserable; my fingers are cold, the guitar is cold, and the strings are cold too. So I play quickly and swift songs without any break to warm up my body and guitar. Christmas time in here, at Deák square is very profitable, way better than average. But yes, underpasses are warmer.

Do passers-by ask you to play a certain song?

Yes, of course. ‘Nothing Else Matters’ from Metallica and ‘Egyszerű Dal’ by Tankcsapda are on top of the wish list of the people passing by. But I never learn a song just to please someone who passes by, only if it is my pleasure too. Sometimes there’s an overlap of course, but I can’t play a song enjoyable if I don’t like it. Some of the wish makers feel aggrieved because of it, so I patiently explain them that I’m not a jukebox.

So you change and broaden your repertoire?

Yes, permanently. It’s a part of the work. If you are a street musician it is important to learn and practice new songs, so you’ll never be boring. It’s not possible to learn a completely new song properly in a minute. Usually I pick two or three new songs to learn in a week.

Do you always play with licence?

Yes. I have licence to play at Deák square until the end of the year. But sadly it still can’t guarantee exclusiveness for me. You know, the churches can do whatever they want. And there’s the chestnut seller, the flower seller, the who-knows-what seller. First I tried to fight for my place, but I gave up long ago. My licence is more like an insurance for me. Because if a public warden comes to ask why am I playing in the underpass, I can tell him I have licence to play at Deák. But Jehovah’s Witnesses are there in my place. After that they mostly leave me alone to play. I gave up that precious place, but Christmas comes, so I’ll get it back at any cost.

musician: Ádám Kornél

made by: Gregor Lilla, Hayo de Haan, Hidi Richard, Kelemen Dorottya

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