We’ve all probably passed a guitar-playing busker before, but if push came to shove, you may find yourself struggling to recall the specifics of a certain street performance you happened to experience.
Sure, there are the exceptions – Damian Salazar’s shred performance springs to mind – but it remains a fact that, while many buskers possess the necessary chops, they might not have the showmanship to arrest people's imagination and leave a long-lasting impact that will stay with them as they continue their stroll down the street and beyond.
The art of busking is a far more challenging endeavor than many would realize. It’s not just about playing well, it’s about catching the attention of those going about their daily business, drawing them into your sidewalk show and making sure they remember your name long after you're gone.
Borja Catanesi – a globe-trotting, guitar-toting street performer who has gone viral on countless occasions – is one example of a player who has cracked the code to busking, thanks to his unique and infectious performances that tick all the above boxes.
He's also an example of an individual who makes better use of the humble wireless system than pretty much any other guitar player on the planet, with his performing prowess leading him to a podium finish at the Buskers World Cup in South Korea earlier this year.
It’s a bold claim, but watch any one of his videos and you might find yourself agreeingt. Catanesi, who has been dubbed “the best street musician in the world” (opens in new tab), has amassed a huge following thanks to his unique videos, which see him serenade the busy streets of Europe’s biggest cities with a twist.
The crowds he attracts don't just spectate; they get involved. Thanks to his clever use of the wireless system, Catanesi can venture out into the streets and out onto gridlocked roads, and stroll alongside passer-bys to convince them to join his jam.
We mentioned his viral videos, of which there are many. In one of his most recent Instagram posts, Catanesi assembled and led an impenetrable conga of more than 20 people down a high street in Braunschweig, Germany, with countless others looking on. Try doing that with a guitar cable.
His biggest hit, though – which currently stands at more than 800k views on YouTube – is his performance in The Hague, Netherlands, which sees Catanesi trade moves with an older gentleman to the sound of his Gretsch G2627T Streamliner.
In other videos, Catanesi captures the attention of people both young and old, coaxing them into dancing along to his blues-y looped jams, energetic reggae-esque leads and even a handful of well-known rock ‘n’ roll riffs. His performances serve as both powerful musical introductions for young children and effective limb-looseners for the elderly who may have lost that dancing spark.
Not only are his videos a testament to his own chops as a performer and showman, Catanesi’s clips are also indicative of music’s role as a universal language.
Street performing has been a part of Catanesi’s DNA since the start of his six-string journey. After making the leap from piano to guitar at the age of 15, he quickly began busking with various bands.
“Most of [what I know] I learned by myself spending hours and hours playing,” he said. “At the same time I started jamming with friends and joined some bands. At some point with one of the bands we also did some street performances.
“It captured me: the freedom of the street and the connection you can create to the public. Something that is very different on stage.”
“I’ve always been intrigued by the unknown and different cultures,” Catanesi explained when asked what further inspired him to become a street performer. “When I was younger my dad traveled a lot for work. He would always bring little gifts from other places and it made me curious to see the world too.
“The connection of traveling and playing guitar just kind of happened,” he continued. “I realized that busking allowed me to travel anywhere and do what I love.”
It was his adoption of a wireless system, though, that was the “total gamechanger”. “I started to use a wireless system three years ago,” he reflects. “I realized that for my show it's very important to be cableless and to be able to move freely. It allows me to get closer to my audiences and connect.”
Wireless system aside, Catanesi used to subscribe to a fairly standard street performer’s rig – the holy grail Roland Cube was once in there – though he’s recently made some modifications. The Cube has been swapped out for a JBL Eon PA for output purposes, while his guitars are paired with a Line 6 HX Stomp XL and Boss’s new RC-600 loop pedal.
As for guitars, Catanesi’s go-to model is a Fender Select Series Stratocaster, though he’s also been spotted out in the wild with a Gibson ES-339, Danelectro DC59, Epiphone SG, headless Traveler Guitar and Gretsch G2627T Streamliner, among others. “Every guitar invites you to play different things and in a different way,” he muses. “I love this aspect about playing different guitars.”
Recently, Catanesi’s unique performing abilities helped him to third spot at the first-ever Buskers World Cup in South Korea – a deserving accolade for all his efforts.
Owing to his traveling lifestyle, there’s no telling where Borja Catanesi and his trusty wireless system will pop up next. However, if you ever find yourself strolling through a large European city, make sure to keep your eyes peeled: you must just stumble across one of the best street performances you’ll ever witness.