Brazilian court bans subway performers

If you ever thought of making a career out of busking on a Brazilian subway carriage, think again. The Rio Court of Justice has banned street artists from performing on the subway on the basis that such performances disrupt commuters’ “tranquillity”.

The court ruled last week that a law introduced in 2018 permitting performance art inside train and metro cars was “unconstitutional”. Judge Heleno Pereira Nunes supported by a majority of the court said it was impossible for passengers on subway carriages to “exercise their right to tranquillity… when exposed to shouting and loud noises from musical instruments”.

The Judge held that “it is up to each person to choose, according to their values and convictions, what type of art to attend and at what moment”. The judgment was also shaped by concern over the use of performance art as a vehicle for political messaging. “Under the pretext of spreading their ‘art’, various groups practice political and ideological indoctrination,” Judge Nunes held.

Brazilian street artists are not taking the decision lying down. Some are contemplating appealing the court’s decision while others continued to perform in the subway this week in defiance of the ruling.

Representative of the Metro Artists group, Edson Ramos, argued the court’s ruling was “arbitrary, without hearing the artists”. Singer Dener Rangel Alves insisted performers not only performed for profit but also “to make a positive contribution… a passenger told me that my music soothed his soul”.

In the UK, buskers on the London Underground require a license to perform. The number of licences is limited and so popular is the scheme that TfL has begun holding auditions as part of a ‘Busk in London’ initiative. Under the initiative, performers are judged by music industry experts for a chance to win busking licenses.

Even licensed performers sometimes disrupt commuter ‘tranquillity’. Last October, a harpist at South Kensington station took a hit from commuters who criticised him for playing the theme from ‘Titanic’ on a loop. They launched the attack as part of a public consultation into ‘irresponsible’ busking.

The performer’s response to the consultation was “My harp will go on”.

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