Busking opera singer takes his tunes into London's green spaces

Having made aliyah a few years ago, Rafael is now back in the UK and trying to find a safe way to bring live music to the people of London


Concerts may have stopped during lockdown, but walkers passing through beauty spots in north-west London could be lucky enough to encounter professional busker Rafael.

A trained opera singer, Rafael - who prefers to be known by his first name only -  has been performing in green spaces in a bid to bring live music back to the masses during the pandemic.

Last weekend, he did an impromptu gig on Hampstead Heath in London. Speaking to the JC afterwards, he said: "I decided I could sit at home and practise my music, or go out.

“I wanted to perform in fields; a space that’s empty, and then, if people want to come and see me, they will. I don’t want to push my music in people’s faces.”

Armed with a microphone, mandolin and backing track, he has sung numbers including: O Sole Mio, E Lucevan Le Stelle and an operatic rendition of My Way, with which he always ends a set.

“The fields start off with a couple of people on a walkway or throwing a ball to their dog.

“But then, you see people coming through the trees like elves to investigate what’s going on. They’re almost thankful you’re performing. It feels like people are starved of it.”

As he performs, people gather at a safe distance – encouraged to do so by his placard. Some film the scene on their smartphones, while others silently watch.

“It’s an amazing feeling. One person comes to listen, then another. Before you know it, there’s a small crowd.”

He added: “I don’t want people to be afraid. It eats you up.”

Born in Leeds, Rafael - the grandson of a dayan - grew up around music with his father a cantor, and his mother a piano teacher.

His music teacher at the Brodetsky Jewish primary school encouraged him to audition for the annual musical, but he was “too scared” and continued to sing in his bedroom.

Years later, he enrolled at the Leeds College of Music, where he specialised in classical music. It was here that a fellow student introduced Rafael to busking. He quit his job at a kosher restaurant and started performing in Harrogate and York.

Aged 25, he made aliyah. Working in an office, he would spend his free time busking from Jerusalem’s Ben Yehuda Street to Tel Aviv’s beaches.

In 2018, he moved back to the UK, where he would busk across London’s top tourist spots and London Underground tube stations as a full-time vocation.  

“We literally do sing for our supper,” he added. “Busking can be great and a full-time thing – it has been for me for more than a year. But I do want to go further, I want to be in demand for private concerts.”

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