José Manuel Martins, musician and owner of live music bar Birimbar in Portimão

“I know musicians who are going hungry”: Algarve musicians appeal for support as pandemic closes venues

Musicians in the Algarve are urging the government for support measures to help them overcome the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, which has closed all venues in the region and left them without work.

Some are even “going hungry” as they have lost their source of income and have no money to buy food.

For the majority of musicians, the most they can expect to receive at the end of the month via the government’s support measure for the ‘self-employed’ (green receipted) workers is €438.

It is a sum that is way below the country’s €635 minimum wage, which has been set as the lowest amount workers will receive after being placed on the government’s ‘simplified lay-off regime’.

“It is a disrespectful amount,” Tiago Rodrigues, singer of local covers band 5EX Band, told the Resident.

“I understand the government’s side, they are in a hard situation as they don’t have enough money to go around for everyone, but musicians were among the first to be left without work. And we will be the last ones to start working again,” he told us.

Tiago Rodrigues stressed that musicians aren’t the only ones struggling. There are also thousands of sound technicians, lighting technicians and ‘roadies’ who depend on cultural events and have been left without work.

“I know people who are going hungry and have already asked me for help. These are people who are desperate. Many of them are asking for donations after performing on live Facebook streams. It is heart-breaking to watch. Thankfully, we (5ex Band) haven’t reached that stage yet, but the situation is very complicated,” he said.

With Easter usually marking the end of the low season for musicians, many are now left with no idea of when they will get back on stage.

“I don’t know what is going to happen this year; this could be a catastrophe. Everything is closed, and even when businesses reopen, musicians are usually not a priority. It will still be a long time before everything is back to normal,” said José Manuel Martins, a renowned musician and owner of live music bar Birimbar in Portimão.

It is a situation of hopelessness that is expected to continue for as long as the pandemic keeps venues closed and concerts and events cancelled or postponed.

According to Carvoeiro’s famous percussionist Beto Kalulu, local councils should step up in support of their local musicians.

“If there is money to distribute among musicians, then councils should have a list of all musicians in the municipality in order to support them,” he told us.

Meantime, Jorge Carrilho, a drummer who has played in numerous bands in the Algarve for nearly 50 years, told us he never expected to be in this situation after so many years performing.

“Here in the Algarve, musicians have been completely left without work. I know there are people with other jobs who may need support more than us, but there are musicians who will not survive if they do not receive support,” he told us.

“I haven’t heard a single word of support from the government for those who live off music,” Carrilho lamented, stressing that, as a musician, he has always done everything ‘by the book’ and paid all his taxes.

Government’s controversial music festival cancelled
A music festival that was being organised by the Ministry of Culture has been cancelled after receiving overwhelming backlash from musicians from all over the country, including a petition signed by over 20,000 people calling for its cancellation.

The festival, entitled ‘TV Fest’, was going to be aired on state channel RTP and was due to feature a series of popular Portuguese artists performing live, with €1 million to go around for the performing artists as well as their crews.

But the festival was quickly lambasted for “only supporting famous musicians” who are not in dire need of financial support, unlike the thousands of lesser-known artists throughout the country.

The musicians the Resident spoke to in the Algarve were unanimous in their criticism of the festival.

“Unfortunately, money for culture usually goes to ‘four or five musicians and their friends’. They are always the same ones,” said Beto Kalulu.

“They announced €1 million for artists, but which artists were they? They were the famous ones, the ones who need support the least,” said Tiago Rodrigues.

Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa has already reacted to the news, saying he doesn’t understand why the ‘TV Fest’ project received so much backlash, although he acknowledged that the country’s musicians are in dire need of support.

The PM added that the government had to support a “project of this nature” (TV Fest) which would generate income for the struggling musicians.

However, he showed empathy for artists who “have generously been using online platforms to share their art with the Portuguese people, even though they are not making any money from it. This cannot continue,” he admitted in an interview on the popular TVI channel show ‘Você na TV’.

By MICHAEL BRUXO
michael.bruxo@algarveresident.com

Local covers band 5EX Band
Drummer Jorge Carrilho
José Manuel Martins, musician and owner of live music bar Birimbar in Portimão
Carvoeiro musician Beto Kalulu