Buskers: the Good, the Bad and the Weird

Buskers - street performers - can be found in just about every tourist area of Portugal. The types of performances vary markedly by location. 

In Porto, for example, most buskers are musicians and are confined for the most part to the waterfront Ribeira tourist area - although there are a particular concertina (small accordion) player who works the Metro, riding it back and forth between the airport and train station with a small chihuahua on his shoulder.  Another notable busker was the old organ-grinder (with a pet chicken) who used to play a barrel organ in front of the Mercado do Bolhão (a famed Porto market and landmark). The mercado is closed for a couple of years for total renovation, and the market is now in the basement of a nearby mall. Much cleaner and not nearly as interesting. I wonder what has become of all of the peripheral people who made livings just on the edge of the market as performers, trinket sellers, etc. There is no place for them in the modern mercado.

this guy's dogs hold his tips
In Coimbra, the buskers are almost all musicians - and generally very good, at that. More than a few are actually college students at the University of Coimbra, no doubt studying performance. But there are also fado-playing old men ripping it up on guitarras impressively. 


Lisbon is the only Portuguese city I'm aware of that regulates busking. Street performers are required to obtain a license, and the police regulate the main tourist areas pretty actively. It is in Lisbon, however, that it seems anything goes.  


Buskers are a fixture in praças, miradouros, and busy tourist streets such as Rua Augusta. In Lisbon, there are, of course, many street musicians - some good, some not so great, but all apparently are required to have Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" in their repertoire. On any given afternoon, you can hear the dulcet tones of "Hallelujah" played on saxophone, cello, guitar, voice or bagpipes...(okay, maybe not bagpipes - but I wouldn't be surprised).  

There are also performers such as jugglers, acrobats and clowns...although the clowns we saw were a rather tepid group. Their outfits and makeup were little better than what you'd see at Halloween, and they appeared to have no talents. They walked around in groups of 2 or 3 with the sort of long balloons that balloon animals are crafted from - except I never saw one make an animal with the balloons - they just walked around squeaking them annoyingly (especially near where other buskers were trying to perform). I honestly don't know how, or if, they got any tips - perhaps they were some sort of performance art protesters.

A particularly Lisbon take on busking is the human statues that one sees up and down the Avenida - all sorts of characters who have painted themselves to look like bronze statues, or in one case an alabaster bride, or the creepy oiled-up "Native American" complete with loincloth and headdress.  My favorite of these, however, was the cleaver young man who made himself look like a statue of John Lennon and had a boombox playing "Imagine" as he mugged for tourists - and broke into song every now and then.


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