SOMERSET Barnard is a 27-year-old Aussie with a unique name who has embarked on a trip that’s equally as colourful.
The passionate musician ditched the 9-5 routine after making some big mistakes in his youth, which prompted him to pack it all in and set off overseas with the goal of circumnavigating the globe solely by busking.
After departing 18 months ago with just $7 in his pocket, he’s already made his way through 11 countries including the UK, France, Spain, America and Africa. All funded from playing his guitar on street corners, beaches, train stations, wherever he can really.
He spoke to news.com.au about the highs and lows of his journey so far.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your love of busking
“Music has always been part of me. From a young age growing up in the Brisbane suburbs it was an escape — from playing guitar in the kitchen late at night to putting on old Blues records that I had bought with my last change.
“And then there came that time I guess happens to most of us. We finish school and are burdened with expectations from all directions. ‘You must go to University,’ some say. ‘You can’t keep just bumming around with music,’ your friends tell you.
“So I tried to be someone. I tried my hand at university, several times actually. Firstly environmental science then architecture. No good, my heart wasn’t in it. So I tried numerous jobs.
“There were stints landscaping and green keeping, even a stint as a stablehand. (I also did some things) I’m not proud of. I did my community service time for my legal wrongs and when that time was up I signed to a independent record Label, Race Café Records … under the label I lost my creativity.
“So to cut a long story short that is why at the end of the day I found myself back on the streets busking, relying on my honesty and my music.
“I sat there one day busking at Central Station Tunnel (in Sydney), reflecting on all the people I had screwed over in the pursuit of success. And how at the end of the day at 27-years-old I was back where I started …. Playing guitar.
“As each solemn and tired face walked up the tunnel I felt a warmth in the fact that I could bring a smile back upon their face. And perhaps for that minute they too were escaping, just as I did all those years ago in the kitchen.”
So why did you decide to busk around the world?
“As the months went on busking became my breadwinner and I realised I could take it anywhere. I travelled all down the east coast from Brisbane to Melbourne. I threw my case down in an array of places, from the beach town of Byron Bay to the rural fruit growing town of Kyabram.
“But it wasn’t until Port Fairy, at the end of the Great Ocean Road, that it hit me. I was having a quiet beer at the Star hotel when I started talking to an old man (after an hourlong conversation I don’t think I ever caught his name!). We started talking about politics, how he wanted to travel and how he thought that every young man should see the world.
“‘You wouldn’t get half the idiots in parliament as we do now,’ he said. That night as I camped on the beach I thought about what he said. I thought why not busk around the world? It had worked all over Australia so why not the world? I always believed that music is the universal language and I sat there thinking how rewarding it would be to put a smile on someone’s face a thousand miles away.
“So with that thought I looked at what money I had and searched for cheap tickets to random locations around the globe. And that was it. Three days later I set off on my adventure with the aim to travel the world solely on busking and to record 20 songs in 20 places around the globe, fusioning my music with the music from each place.”
Where are you now? And what’s it like to rely on busking to fund your travels?
“I am in Camberene, a neighbourhood of Dakar in Senegal. It’s a unique part of Dakar and vastly different from the surrounding areas. The neighbourhood is not on government land so the buildings have literally been built upon what were once sand dunes.
“There are no sealed roads, or ‘roads’ at all, for that matter. Rather, the neighbourhood is linked by a maze of sandy tracks. It’s Ramadan here so during the day things are tranquil. The streets are lined with men playing checkers under makeshift shelters while the women can be seen conversing while preparing the food for the evening break of the fast.
“However, when evening comes it’s a different story, the streets are alive and the women bring their kitchen to the street. The break of fast is a special time here. The neighbourhood becomes one big family and when I walk the streets I’m handed cups of juice, mangoes and fish.
“It’s been 10 days here. Having arrived in Dakar with little over 7000 CFA (about $7), I have since found my feet. It’s always a daunting prospect arriving in a new place with just my backpack and guitars. But as my new brother here, Luna, keeps telling me; ‘Music is universal and if I just keep on playing what’s waiting for me will come’.
“That’s a fact I’ve relied upon over the last year-and-a-half. It’s a fact that has allowed me to traverse 11 countries. From busking at the gas station of a small Texas town or playing on the rocks of a Senegal beach, my music has crossed cultural boundaries and opened doors.”
How much do you actually earn from busking?
“Busking is not just throwing my case down, playing and hoping a few coins fall in my case. No, to me it’s more than that. Music is universal and playing my music on the street breaks down barriers. It opens up opportunities to meet people and connect. You see it’s not the money that has solely got me through, it’s the connections to the people that the music has created that has allowed me to survive.
“It has allowed me to meet lifelong friends that I’ve stayed with. It has allowed me to meet some of the most amazing musicians to jam and record with. But most of all it has allowed me to cross cultural boundaries and be able to walk in another’s shoes … so how much I make is impossible to quantify.”
How do the locals react?
“I can honestly say that in all the places I have been to the people have been more than welcoming. I can’t say the same for the authorities. Here is an example: I was busking in Jemaa el fna, the main square in Marrakech. I had a good crowd of about 50 locals around me, all intrigued and loving the music, cheering away.
“The commotion must have aroused suspicion with the gendarmerie (military) and as I strummed my guitar I felt a hand on my shoulder, ‘you cant play here’ he said as the other gendarmerie proceeded to pack my belongings with no sense of fragility! ‘I have a permit,’ I blurted in vain. ‘And don’t touch my stuff’.
“Meanwhile the crowd of onlookers grew as word spread of the commotion. A group of local shopkeepers came to my aid arguing with the gendarmerie.
“This was not to the gendarmerie’s liking and the growth of the crowd in my support clearly was a problem in his eyes … newly arrived gendarmerie proceeded to confiscate any phones, photos or videos and I was subsequently marched to the police station.
“In the commotion I realised I didn’t have my guitars. S**t! Goodbye Rosie (my guitar)! But I glanced back behind me and realised I was being followed to the police station by a crowd of at least 20 locals, all sharing the load of my belongings between them. It was an absurd situation.”
And what about the future?
“I hope to continue to travel around Africa. I want to travel indefinitely.”