Vendors across the street paper network face common problems: homelessness, poverty, discrimination, vulnerability, and countless more. The holidays are an especially tough time for people who may be living on the streets and, more often than not, we reduce those who are without shelter to the issues they face, rather than seeing them as individual human beings with desires, memories, hopes, loves, hates, tastes, pains, talents and interests.
As is tradition, International Network of Street Papers (INSP) has put together a feature for the festive period centered on vendors. This year we decided to do something a little different.
In the United Kingdom, BBC Radio 4 has a long-running feature called “Desert Island Discs.” Guests on the show select a batch of songs that they would have accompany them if they were to become castaways stranded on a desert island. With all that in mind …
Welcome to our vendor world music playlist!
THE QUESTION: If you could give a song as a present this Christmas, which track would you choose, and why?
We heard from 39 street papers, across 22 countries. Like our network, the songs are eclectic and diverse. Some vendors tell intriguing tales behind their selection; others just like to dance. Music is universal and ties us together. You can listen to the songs vendors selected on Spotify or YouTube.
Aurora da Rua, Salvador-Bahia, Brazil
Luís Lázaro Silva Nascimento sells the street paper Aurora da Rua at traffic intersections, outside schools and at events across the Brazilian city of Salvador. At the city’s carnival in the region of Bahia, the song “Revolta do Olodum” is a staple of the samba-reggae music, or bloco-afro, that is famous there.
Performed by a band known as Olodum, the song is part of the foundation of Brazilian culture and is rooted in African styles of playing. “Olodum has songs that evoke social justice and citizenship. ‘Revolta do Olodum’ (meaning something like ‘Olodum’s revolt’) is one of those songs that gets people’s attention and makes them think about their social reality,” says Luís.
He said, “I am from Pelourinho [a historical neighborhood in the centre of Salvador and main hub of Afro-Brazilian culture]. It is a good song and very moving. It talks about our people and the injustices of slavery, even now, in our country. The music’s cadence and speed evokes the African drums of slavery times. Nowadays, I really like playing the cajon, a percussion instrument that originates from Peru’s colonial period, where African slaves used wooden boxes and drawers to play their beats.”
The Big Issue Australia
Sue, 58, who sells The Big Issue Australia in the Melbourne city center, chose a well-known classic “Amazing Grace.” Specifically, a rousing rendition by the late Aretha Franklin, who died in August. “When you face any difficulties in life, this song gives me hope,” says Sue. “It reminds me of where I’ve been, how far I have come and what lies ahead. I love the words and meaning behind the song – it shows the grace of God. It is very touching and Aretha’s voice is so beautiful.”
Big Issue North, Manchester, UK
Dave, 60, sells the magazine at Manchester Victoria train station, dedicates the stone-cold pop classic ‘Hero’ by Enrique Iglesias to his fellow vendors. “I have chosen this song because everybody who is on the streets out selling a magazine, who has come off drugs or alcohol or is dealing with another illness, is a hero.
“I got married six years ago and this was our first dance. Unfortunately, we are separated now, but this song still has a lot of meaning for me.”
BISS, Munich, Germany
Toni Menacher, a BISS vendor in Munich city center, has known John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads” for a long time. In 2001, it took on a special meaning for the now 57-year-old.
“At the time, I was with my girlfriend visiting the Western-City event venue in [the Bavarian town] Dasing for the first time,” he explains. “A band was playing, and the first song was this famous one by John Denver.
“‘Country Roads’ became our song, but I’m sad to say that my girlfriend has since passed away.
“My Christmas gift to every person out there would be for them to have a wonderful partner by their side, as I was lucky enough to have for those 13 years.”
Real Change, Seattle, Washington
Joe Howard is from Norfolk, Virginia, a city surrounded by an abundance of salty water with a huge navy presence. Sound familiar?
But Howard doesn’t mention all that water when he harks back to his childhood in Norfolk. He remembers the railroad tracks. He was raised on the wrong side, he said. “I grew up in a very urban neighborhood — the projects,” he said. It’s the urban perspective that leads Howard to pick the song, “Man in the Hills” by Burning Spear. Because, he said, “Back in the ’80s and ’90s in Norfolk, that was like the way of life that I knew.”
He chants the lyrics in a reggae cadence, “…If we could live up in the hills, oh, ho, oh, oh …” Living in the hills was something Howard thought a lot about. “[Burning Spear] is talking about the culture in Jamaica, but I could relate and I knew where he was coming from. I could never go outside my area in the city because the city was so segregated. Things were cliquish — you stayed in your part of town.”
Howard says that, to him, the song celebrates life and culture in South Norfolk — just like it celebrates life and culture that’s tucked deep into the hills of Jamaica.
Today Howard sells Real Change at Elliott Bay Book Company on 10th Ave. in Capitol Hill.
Liceulice, Belgrade, Serbia
A recurring theme for street paper vendors in their song choices has been the idea that music can hark back to more youthful and, in some cases, happier times.
This is the main theme for David Jankovic and Svetlana Petrovic, who both sell Serbian street paper Liceulice in Belgrade, Serbia.
David chose ‘Black or White’ by Michael Jackson.
“This song reminds me of the old days, and my friends,” Jankovic says. “It reminds me of my primary school and my first crush, and taught me a lot about how not to judge people by the color of their skin”.
Svetlana’s choice is closer to home — Serbian singer Zorica Markovic’s ‘Mirno spavaj nano.'
“There is no special significance I can place on it — I just love hearing this song. It reminds me of my youth,” she said. “I love the lyrics. It has a nice message about freedom to love.”
Street Roots, Portland, Oregon
Daniel Cox, 52, on Social Distortion’s “The Story of My Life.” “I can relate to it. Especially the verse ‘I went downtown to look for a job, I looked at the holes in my jeans and turned and headed back’. Also, it talks about change. Things change in time; we hope they don’t but they always do.”
Eric Sweger, 53, on Italian opera composer Giacomo Puccini’s ‘O Mio Babbino Caro:’ “This is a sad song, but if you don’t know Italian, it actually sounds cheerful. It reminds me of the sun coming up. But if you know the story, it’s contradictory. I like opera, once I heard it stuck in my head. I first heard it 30 years ago.”
Aileen McPherson, 44, on S.J. Tucker’s folky “Cheshire Kitten.” “I can see my life in this song; parts of it at least, but maybe the whole thing. I can relate to it all. We’re all mad here and it’s OK. One of my favorite parts is the chorus: ‘You gotta go down the rabbit hole and out the other side, you can’t go home in the middle of the magic carpet ride’.”
Charles McPherson, 34, on “Do You Hear the People Sing” from the musical “Les Misérables.” “I grew up listening to Les Mis. I watched the 10-year anniversary performance every day when I was in middle school while I did my homework. The lyrics and music are beautiful.”
Street Wise, Chicago
Tony Landers, 56, picked Otis Redding’s “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay.” “I sat on that same bench where Redding came up with this song,” says Tony. “I mean, I liked it before I got there, but that song just, I don’t know. I do a lot of traveling, too, but when I heard it I just liked it. When I finally went to San Francisco it really grew on me. Once, I wrote a letter to my girlfriend, put it in a bottle, and threw it in the San Francisco Bay. I called to see if she got it. She said, ‘No, you fool.’”
Read the full Dec. 26 - Jan. 1 issue.
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