Interview: Frederik Konradsen. Busker, Berlin, Germany
(By Hazel Davis)
I was born in Madagascar and grew up in Denmark. Now I live in Berlin but I have busked in London, Oslo, Madrid, Berlin, Munich, Hamburg, Frankfurt, Prague, Vienna, Copenhagen, Singapore, Melbourne, Sidney, Auckland, Hollywood and Buenos Aires. I have also performed at festivals in Hungary, Russia, and Italy and will be performing in Mexico City for the first time later this year.
I tend to do a 45-minute set of covers and my own songs. I love doing You Can Call Me Al. I love the story and the images Paul Simon creates and I love the African feeling in the rhythm. In Busted In Bavaria, one of my own, I am exploring the unpleasant memory of having my car searched in the middle of the night by undercover police officers. But I turned it into a cute story, which was cathartic….
There is a tendency for higher-latitude European folk to donate more and engage less in the action. Lower latitude European folk may donate slightly less, but really join the action with clapping, dancing and singing. In the colder climates people move less, yet they are the ones who need to shake their bums to keep warm.
In Russia, I have experienced what I call 'the freak factor'. I instantly get a huge crowd but sense they are thinking, "Look Mom, an alien carrying a banjo." But Russia is a beautiful place with great people who know how to party. Berliners are less busy. They use their city in a different way. For example, Mauer Park (in Prenzlauer Berg) is full every Sunday. There’s a flea market and people go there to hang out and have picnics.
Kids and drunks are universal 'joiners'. They have either not yet learned or forgotten all about the boundaries and rules of engagement in social environments. But I really want people to be loose and engaged, so I mainly welcome this.
Once, while busking in Ferrara in north Italy, I offered my chair to a woman who must have been 90 years old. She refused to sit down and gestured that she wanted to keep standing so that she could dance. That was one of my many memorable moments busking. It’s the little things like this that make the experience.
Sometimes the magic happens offstage. A rich man opened his penthouse apartment to me in Melbourne and lets me stay there for free. This is something that wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t practiced the mixolydian scale for ten years.
Busking is (as Mel Gibson puts it in Braveheart) FREEEEDOOOOM! I love playing my music anywhere, but in the street I am the master. You don’t have to do any marketing, job hunting or waiting for the phone to ring. If the audience sucks or I suck in the street, I can and will just go home. The same goes for the audience, they can leave anytime they want to as well. I love the surprise and interruption of the outdoors.
A big part of my audience did not plan to go to a concert with me on that particular day. They have another purpose and when they see me it’s fight or flight mode and I just love it when they make a decision and stay. It’s pure and honest. When, in 2008, I participated in the Danish X Factor I got suddenly really busy with really well-paid gigs. My bank account looked great but I really missed the street.