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01 Oct 14

Joy and Necessity Fill Belgrade Streets with Music

They are everywhere from the Terazije underground passage, all the way across the Knez Mihailova Street to the Kalemegdan Park, making people happy with music played both for pleasure and money.  

Ivana Nikolic
BIRN Belgrade
Street artists can be found in Belgrade's downtown. | Photo by Beoinfo

“Love of music is what brings me here every day,” says Dragan Djuric, a 64-year old piper as he stands in Serbian folk costume at the entrance of the Knez Mihailova Street.

“Apart from that, to be honest, my pension is around €150 euros and the money I earn here means a lot to me and my family,” he adds, revealing that he makes from five to ten extra euros a day.

Djuric has been playing in the capital’s main pedestrian zone for ten years with his band “Melody”.

As we talk, a short older man approaches us, smiling broadly. “Jovan, come here!,” DJuric whoops.

Jovan is another member of the band, a harmonica player. Apart from Dragan and Jovan, there are a guitar player and a singer.

The best part of this job, they say, is that they make people happy. On the other hand, when winter comes, they cannot play because it is too cold and there are not many passers-by.

“All in all, we are satisfied here,” Djuric concludes, looking content and preparing to start his performance.

From an orchestra to the street

Dragan Lucic played a guitar in the orchestra of the National Broadcasting Company, but was made redundant five years ago.

Walking down the crowded Knez Mihailova Street in the afternoon, you may also come across Dragan Lucic, another street musician. Before hitting the streets, he used to play guitar in the orchestra of the National Broadcasting Company, RTS. But he was made redundant five years ago.

“As I mostly play foreign music, I get euros and dollars. But sometimes I get dinars as well,” he says.

“People sometimes approach and put five dinars into my box, saying that is everything they have,” he says.

“The fact that people who live on the edge give me as much as they can is a big honour,” Lucic adds, smiling.

It is the only job that this guitarist currently has. However, he also doesn’t play on the streets during winter, owing to the weather. Over those months, you might find him in one of Belgrade’s many bars and cafés.

No time to stop

Licence to play

For street musicians to play music in Belgrade, a licence from the City Administration has been a must since 2013. A licence is free, however, although it expires after 90 days. It can then be renewed if the performer follows the regulations. It allows musicians to play at specific locations for up to two hours a day.

Before they got a licence, street musicians, each one of them, had a public performance on the Sava river bank where a jury of ten members from the Secretary of Culture evaluated their work.

Apart from musicians, jugglers, pantomimists, painters and other performers also need licences to entertain the public and solicit donations.

Somewhere in between “Melody“ and Dragan, if you are still walking down the main pedestrian zone, heading to the Kalemegdan Park, you might also see a young woman with long hair playing the violin. She usually comes around 5pm and stays for an hour or two, mostly playing well-known classical pieces.

Sometimes another young woman accompanies her on the piano. Today, however, she is alone.

“Sorry, I can’t stop playing now. I’ve just come here and this is the rush hour,“ she says as I approach, asking if she has time to talk.

 She looks down to her violin box where some 300 dinars sit in small banknotes.

“And I really need the money, sorry,” the young violinist adds, putting the instrument on her shoulder and starting to play, moving her body to the rhythm of the music, keeping her eyes closed.

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