The Economic Adventures of a Transborder Street Musician

Heading down south for the big Pesos.

Busker’s Buzz December 20, 2007

Filed under: Tuesdays — ramonalvarado @ 2:23 am
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franquicia tambora 

As I was arriving at the pedestrian area of Velarde St. I saw that the place where the Andean musicians where last time was taken by this gentleman selling a sort of dancing magical skeletons. He sells them by putting on a show with them. These things are made of plastic, about three inches tall and hang by a very thin, invisible almost, fishing wire and he sort of inadvertently makes them dance while speaking to the public.  I kept on walking to my usual spot in the shoe store area. I was so focused on finding out if the PA system of the big shoe store was on that I didn’t noticed that the Andean musicians where already setting up right there. When I saw them I noticed one of the agents of commerce talking to them and telling them that they should get a permit, I think it’s because they have the whole kit, including CD’s and flutes to sell. I talked to them and found out thatthey are actually from Mexico City and not from the Andean region, they usually busk at Malls during this season.

As I was wishing them luck and taking off at that same corner, in the middle of the pedestrian crossing, two little boys, probably 5 or 6 or 5 and6 started to play Tambora with a snare drum and a clarinet, I was really happy about all of this busking scene but a little bit nervous about finding a spot. I went ahead anyway and walked a block further south, did my set and then walked towards the northern end of the Velarde pedestrian shopping area where Ulises joined me briefly once again.

tambora franchise

After that I went towards the Museum where I saw that the little tambora boys had multiplied. They were 7 of them and they had a strategy of divide and conquer. The group I had seen in the Velarde plaza was a subdivision of a busking franchise of brothers and sisters. They where all walking together with their instruments this time back to the main downtown square. As soon as I started my set at the Museum I broke a string, luckily there is a music store right next to me and I was able to change it in less than 5 minutes.

Day 14


Amount of money made: $11.38

Broken string: .90c

Actual gain: $10.48

Exchange rate: 11.16 pesos/dollar


You know you’re in a big city when… December 18, 2007

Filed under: Mondays — ramonalvarado @ 2:16 am
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I have been lucky enough to be in a few big cities around the world. All of them completely different in their own little peculiarities: the architecture, the plazas, the vibe and other things make them apart, but as a busker enthusiast I have found something that just tells me whether I am in a big city or a small town. Of course it has to do with buskers or the lack thereof but it has to do with a particular kind of international buskers that can be recognized anywhere. I am talking about Andean Musicians. They usually have their pan pipes, or pan flutes, a drum or a drum machine and a guitar. They also usually have an amplifier with them and sell CD’s of the mainly instrumental music they are playing. I’ve seen them in every big city I’ve been to and they always make me smile. Today, you guessed it, I saw a group of Andean musicians busking at the same street as I was, only a few blocks north. It made me really happy to see this in Juarez. They had their whole kit including a PA system, a box with some CD’s and some pan flutes to sell and of course their unmistaken music. They looked very professional and they quickly gathered a big crowd. I hope this signals the beginning of a new trend because you know you’re in a big city, or at least an interesting one, when you see one of them Andean musicians busking at the center of it.

Day 12


Amount of money made (B.C. subtracted): $11.04

Time played: 2h

Exchange rate: 11.17 p/dollar

The busking thing hasn’t become, as you can clearly see, a pragmatic and efficient enterprise as a sole income source  for me, but it has gradually grown better from the two or three dollars I made the first days and it has been doing so because I have become better at busking, or so I like to think. It has only been a dozen of times but I feel so much more comfortable now. Now, we have to see it in a different context too, because people in NYC or LA or other cities might see a $10 day as a terrible day but one has to always contextualize busking.

Let’s see it from both sides of the border. First, the northern one: In El Paso the minimum wage is something like $5.75/h. There are many jobs in telemarketing that pay well beyond the minimum but all of the regular jobs at fast food places and retail pay the minimum wage. So if we say that I am earning, now that the busking is getting better, something like $5 or $7 dollars an hour, then we can say that it is not such a bad thing compared to having to be in a greasy, noisy and stressful kitchen burning my fingers with the french fries. I mean, I’m actually doing what many kids at those jobs would love to do. Don’t you think so?


So now let’s look at the southern side of the spectrum which is where I actually busk: In Juarez there are a lot of manufacturing and assembling jobs, and those are generally very close to the national minimum wage standard, although nobody could survive if they actually paid according to guidelines. So look at it like this: The official national daily minimum wage is a little bit under $5 dlls, that means $25 a week. OK, so that said it is impossible to even conceive of supporting a family with that income in a country such as Mexico, so the reality says that the average minimum wage in the whole of Mexico’s State insured population is about $19 dlls a day. I made that on Friday, but in two hours. So, do you see where I’m coming from when I say it isn’t that bad?