Here's a reminder that a tough economy can change life in ways large and small. Spain has an unemployment rate of 26 percent. With six million people without jobs, the country's seen a spike in the number of buskers, street musicians. These performers have long been a part of Madrid's lively culture, but with so many people singing and strumming for money, the city is now requiring them to audition for permits, and those who don't comply face fines. From Madrid, Lauren Frayer sent this postcard.


LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: On the train, the park, on the streets, Madrid is famous for its buskers.


FRAYER: With more than a quarter of Spaniards out of work, more and more people are 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.


FRAYER: It's a happy clamor, but Madrid's mayor says it's reached its limit. A new law will prohibit amplifiers, require buskers to move along every two hours and stay 75 yards away from the next crooner. People who have been singing on the streets here for years are angry.

LAURA NADAL: People know the city because of its life, its nightlife, day life, music on streets, happy people. But we don't know why the city mayor wants us to be sad.

FRAYER: Laura Nadal is a professional pianist who sings in the street with her group, the Potato Omelette Band.

POTATO OMELETTE BAND: (Singing in Spanish)

FRAYER: She and more than 300 other musicians were forced to audition at this big cultural center in downtown Madrid for the privilege of holding out a hat in the street.

CARLOS: It's a joke. Yes, OK, you have five minutes? Play.


CARLOS: My name is Carlos. Mr. Black is my artistic name. I play in the streets 10 years.


GERARDO YLLERA: Now, you have to make a test to sing in the street.


FRAYER: Gerardo Yllera is another member of the Potato Omelette Band. For the unemployed, he says...

YLLERA: The street is the only place that you can go. So, if you can't sing in the street now, what are you going to do?

FRAYER: What the Potato Omelette Band did was use a hidden camera to secretly videotape their audition. The video went viral on Spanish social media because of their lyrics.

NADAL: So, it's like, oh, my poor Madrid, my city. They are taking the artists away to put police. There is no jury better than the hat, the hat you put on the floor to get the money.

FRAYER: That video of Laura and Gerardo's audition got several hundred thousand hits on YouTube. They've become the face of opposition to Madrid's noise reduction law. Their street performances draw crowds now.


FRAYER: And the band just got some news: They passed the audition and got a one-year permit to perform in the streets. For NPR News, I'm Lauren Frayer in Madrid.

Copyright © 2014 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

NPR thanks our sponsors

Become an NPR sponsor

Support comes from