Busking from Barcelona to Brixton

Simone Richardson meets Brixton resident and busker Francisco Javier Perez

man playing guitar in street

Francisco Javier Perez – Javi to his friends and fans – has busked all over Europe and in India. It is his work.

So when lockdown became the rule in London he was not too worried: “The regulations say you can only get out if it is to go to work when you can’t do it from home,” he says. 

The nature of his work means that he cannot do it at home and must do it in public.

Two weeks ago, he says, two police officers in Brixton told him and his band to carry on, “as we were keeping our distance and we were obviously working”.

But over the past weekend they were told they could not play in the street during lockdown.

This proves, says Javi, “that busking is not fully understood as a complete way to make a living – ie, a job”.

He and other campaigners would like to see busking fully protected and regulated, “so that it could become an activity that can be chosen as a life path”.

Until that happens, Javi says, “we will be seen as out of the law street hustlers in the eyes of many.

“The government has to understand that if we are moved on constantly and can’t guarantee a decent income while doing this hard work that makes the communities happy, we won’t be able to contribute so much as taxpayers.”

Javi was born in Barcelona to a Spanish family that has its roots spread all over the country.

“I grew up there thinking I would be an engineer, as both my parents and my brother are, only to change my mind just in time before starting technical university when I was 17.”

man with guitar

Instead, he began a rock band called Everest with his cousin Bill and four other brothers and, he says, “rocked until he was 20 and made the move to London in search of the multicultural musical mash up that seemed so incredibly attractive to my mind”.

Although he learnt other instruments, including piano and percussion, Javi’s preference is the electric guitar that he learnt when he was 15 in Barcelona.

His inspiration was his grandfather. “He played classical music in the car as he picked me and my cousins up from school.

“He brought us up to live with classical music concerts and that has always played with us.”

Javi has recorded with every band he has ever created or been a part of.

“The most recent album is Tamesis,” he says. [Tamesis is the ancient name for the Thames]. It was recorded as the pandemic took hold in London in spring 2020.

The other members of the band Zurito for this album are Teresa and Funky Al.

Javi met Teresa Sarda, his girlfriend, in Brixton. They now live here on Effra Road.

Javi and Teresa played all over Europe and even in India for three weeks in 2019. “We could sustain ourselves by playing two to three hours a day, so that gave us a lot of time to explore the countries; that has given us so much inspiration,” says Javi.

Back in Brixton, they started playing at the Sunday food market in Herne Hill and near Brockwell Park.

“We like places like that – food and families, parks and green with the sun.

“From playing near the market, we saw we could do better by standing further away from the market and being able to play louder.

“Since then we have achieved great success and sold many copies of our album there.”

Teresa is also from Barcelona. Funky Al is London born and bred with Trinidadian inheritance. Javi and Funky Al worked together for five years “playing rock’n’roll and more for many hours on the street during cold weather when few others dare to hit the road.”

Javi says: “During the pandemic I thought the three of us could join forces, and it has been proved that unity makes the difference.

“Our influences have all blended into something pure and spontaneous which we call Zurito.”

Javi says “lockdown gave us the opportunity to sit down and write and record our very first album of Spanish guitars, and the album is making us reach places we could never have thought of.

“So we are blessed to be able to say lockdown has affected us in a good way, but our thoughts are only with the people that have suffered direct or indirect consequences of the virus.”

Brixton also inspires Javi.

Zurito playing outside Brixton Tube station

“I feel grateful to Brixton as an individual and I feel it embodies all the effects of multiculturalism,” he says. “The good ones and bad ones. It is a real place. Full of everything.

“The best thing about Brixton is that no matter how high or low you fly or what colour you are, there is an opportunity for you here.”

Javi is a fighter for the freedom to play in public. Some years ago he and his band were fined £500 for busking in Camden.

You can listen to Zurito on YouTube or Spotify.

To buy a physical limited-run six-panel CD visit BandCamp. The CD has artwork by Cucut, text by artist Bella Land and the label features a collage by Mesineto.

Keep up with Zurito on Instagram 

Visit Javi’s website