Buskers festival organiser Jan Gregar: Prague would benefit from more street performance


A festival called Praha žije hubdou is aiming to bring music to the streets of Prague next spring. If the project goes ahead, professionals and amateurs alike will help culturally transform the city for a day, but organisers will have to reach their proposed target in a current crowdfunding campaign. Jan Gregar of the NGO Nerudný Fest told me more about the project and about busking in Prague.

“We wanted something inspirational which would bring the city to life benefit. When you compare Prague to Dublin or Paris or Berlin, there is much less street performance here.”

“Three years ago, new regulations or a new legal framework was put in place for busking in the capital, but my colleagues and I from the NGO Nerudný Fest felt it would be good to bring more live culture to the city. We wanted something inspirational which would bring the city to life, and allow everyone to benefit. When you compare Prague to Dublin or Paris or Berlin, there is much less street performance here, which is too bad. When you go home from work in the evening it can be uplifting to see a violinist playing on the street and it can be amazing.”

It is certainly true that such moments can transform a day or even be something more, something unforgettable: I had such experiences in New York City where you would have an impromptu performance and then a huge crowd would gather, so I get what you are saying there. Other cities have more busking; what are some reasons, perhaps cultural, why busking is not as popular here?

“Forty years of communism crushing cultural traditions and absolutely limiting any freedoms, it is going to have an impact. Therefore there is not a great tradition of live performances.”

“You know, that is not an easy question to answer but if we look at it more broadly, communism certainly played a strong part. We can’t blame the former regime for everything but when you have 40 years of communism crushing cultural traditions and absolutely limiting any freedoms, it is going to have an impact. Busking did pick up after but some reactions were more like the person is just asking for some money, and many musicians themselves are more used to performing in venues. And that is something which we would like to change. Live culture is important and is not only about the money but the experience.”

And obviously busking can be important for musicians themselves, a starting point, a first audience for some, some of whom go on to great things…

Jakub Ondra, photo: YouTubeJakub Ondra, photo: YouTube “Absolutely. There are many, many examples in music history: Edith Piaf began by busking and even someone like Justin Bieber, who admittedly I don’t like, began as a busker. Czech musicians who have busked include Jakub Ondra, who is just 21 or so after starting two years ago and is now recording albums in Germany and sells all over the world. Some go on to became famous and it doesn’t even have to take long, two or three years. You can see someone playing on the way home, give them a few crowns if you like the performance and later they become famous and you helped.” Let’s talk about some of the musicians who are taking part: Lenka Dusilová is one… an artist who has always forged her own path, remained true to her vision…

Lenka Dusilová, photo: Kristýna MakováLenka Dusilová, photo: Kristýna Maková “There are a lot of musicians who want to and in putting together the event we have focused on artists whose style fits well on the street or who have busked in the past. Dusilová is perfect and has confirmed she will play. She is someone who is established and very respected, who played on the street in the past, although she probably doesn’t as much now. But she understands the non-commercial philosophy of the festival which is that it is not about getting paid as we do not have any kind of budget for that. The festival will also be open to amateurs as well as professionals. There really a lot of people who would like to participate. The main thing is that they have to translate well in the busking format.

Photo: Festival's official Facebook pagePhoto: Festival's official Facebook page “People who visit the festival will get a programme, there will be an app, so they will always know what is going on. We are also hoping to attract performers from abroad including a big name. But there I cannot reveal more as that is still under negotiation.”

The project is currently in crowdfunding – how important a piece of the puzzle is the campaign to the project?

Jan Gregar, photo: Archive of Jan GregarJan Gregar, photo: Archive of Jan Gregar “It is very important and will determine whether the project goes ahead or not. Normally, I don’t like crowdfunding as much as a means of raising funds and there other means or strategies. But in this case, crowdfunding has a very specific role, which is to determine whether there is enough interest for this kind of project in Prague. We need to know this is something that people want and will appreciate and are willing to support and get behind. So we are more than halfway through and have raised 50 percent of the funds needed. Hopefully we will hit our goal of 130,000 crowns for the budget, with ten days remaining. Also, we negotiated with the Vodafone Foundation which pledged that if we it our goal it would double the available funds. So hopefully we will meet the requirement.”

Photo: Kristýna MakováPhoto: Kristýna Maková Putting together this kind of campaign involved a lot of organisation and juggling many different elements… Have you had fun with it also? I ask because one of the main clips is light in tone, showing musicians using fragile musical instruments to dig a hole in the street where repairs are needed. The slogan is kopeme za hudbou, which literally translates as digging for music but means something more like we are fighting for music or in this case street performance.

“Musicians can ‘rebuild’ the city and make things better.”

“We did have fun with the video. But there is a message there too. Which is that music also builds things up, musicians rebuild the city, make things better. So we used this parallel to show the importance of musicians in a funny way. We are following the idea that we don’t want to just have fun but offer alternatives to more commercial events. We are happy to be doing this and hopefully it will be a success.”