Paris: In the morning, Eli Jadelot sells chocolate eclairs in a bakery. In the afternoons, she swaps her apron for a wedding dress and sweet pastries for sweet melodies.
Jadelot is a busker in the Paris metro, one of 300 musicians authorised by the French capital´s transit network to perform in its vast network of corridors.
“I don´t see it a career springboard, but as another way to make music, in a different environment,” said the 39-year-old Jadelot, who usually works as a street artist near the touristy Sacre Coeur area of Montmartre after countless odd jobs since she moved to Paris from Lorraine 16 years ago, driven by dreams of an acting career in the capital.
“I want to see how I manage in a place where people only pass through. Will they react, or won´t they?” she said as she got ready to perform at the Saint-Lazare station, one of Europe´s busiest commuter hubs.
Faced with overwhelming numbers of would-be buskers — without a permit and, often, without talent — Paris metro operator RATP decided 25 years ago to licence the best 300 to perform legally, and ban everybody else.
Every six months, a jury made up of RATP staff listens to around 1,000 applicants and selects its favourites who get to play in the corridors of metro stations, although not on platforms or aboard trains.
This does not stop, of course, unofficial musicians seeking to serenade commuters on the trains themselves.
– ´She´s astonishing´ –
Jadelot applied for the first time last year, and her selection of songs about love, work and everyday life got her in straightaway.
Her stage outfit, a stunning wedding dress borrowed from a friend, may have helped.
“She´s astonishing, with her wedding dress, plus her charming smile,” said Cherif Medouni, an educator who often stops to listen to buskers on his commute.
“Her songs are beautiful, poetic, with a rebellious edge,” he said.
For its selection, the RATP jury doesn´t rule out any instrument, said Stella Sainson, in charge of the “Metro Musician” label, “although some are hard to manage, like the Djembe which is very loud”.
Arnaud Moyencourt, who has been playing his barrel organ in the metro since 1992, made the cut again this time. “He represents the Paris of old,” said a juror, Sofia Tondinelli. “I would definitely stop for him.”
Camille Millian, who sang a Whitney Houston cover to renew her licence, also got selected. “The metro is one of my best venues,” she said.
Riana Rabe, applying for the second time, also got through with suave interpretations of a song from Disney´s “Mulan” film, and one by Radiohead, accompanying herself on a pink electro-acoustic ukulele. “I´ve always been a little scared of people, but now I´ve discovered that they are really extremely friendly,” she said.
Licences were also won by Dominique, who followed in his uncle´s footsteps as a musical saw virtuoso, by Ukrainian Anna Leonid Byulakh, who accompanies her violin performance with artistic jumps, by Abram Lacoste, who gave up his analyst day job for music eight months ago, and by Hugo Vaxelaire with his nyckelharpa, a harp-like contraption that is Sweden´s national instrument.
– ´Need to attract attention´ –
Unlucky applicants include another ukulele player — “poor thing, she´s not ready,” said Sainson — and a 28-year-old Chinese violinist with wide glasses who was judged to be too shy for the challenge.
“They need to be able to attract attention, otherwise people just pass them by, lost in their thoughts,” said Tondinelli.
Some buskers move on to above-ground careers, even France-wide fame, including singer-songwriter Zaz, singer-accordeonist Claudio Capeo and pop group Arcadian who made it onto talent show “The Voice” and released two albums.
But for most of the metro performers, it´s not about fame or money, and that´s probably just as well.
“On a good day, you make 25 euros ($27),” said Jadelot.