Behind the Busker: Charisma with Carvalho

Jordan Carvalho is certainly a master at stage presence. You can tell when he’s performing by the echo of his tenor along the walls of Cornmarket, or the background vocals of the people singing along. When he comes out, the set feels like a mini-concert: people filming, songs being requested, duets with passers-by. So it came to no surprise that when I came to interview him, Jordan was surrounded by about thirty people, all belting out Sam Smith. He told me to come back at 5 when his set was over; the karaoke session ended at 7 only because his phone ran out of battery and the music stopped playing. We were both tired from the singing, probably me more than him, but he still was his chipper self when describing his set.

Okay, readers, I have a secret to admit: Jordan and I have known each other for a good chunk of my short time at Oxford. I first met him on a sunny Thursday while I was feeling the fourth week blues (shh, they exist,) in the middle of his cover of Coldplay’s Yellow. We had a quick chat about my enjoyment of the song and his killer vocals, and I continued my walk to Pret fifteen minutes later, fully certain that I had made a friend. Every time I pass by, we say hello; he even comforted me about my breakup. 

So the question that was on my, and probably everyone’s minds: How does he do it? There seems to be at least one friend of his who passes by every set. Turns out, it’s just how he is. Jordan busks to make people happy and “open[s] [his] hands for everyone.”  He loves hearing people’s stories and giving them a chance to sing and showcase their talents, even if they’re feeling shy about it at first. “Some people’s talents are hidden…when you empower them you make them feel confident and it makes them sing. When I help them do that, I come home and feel like I’ve done a good thing.” Jordan certainly has empowered himself through this music: since his stage fright from his first busking session five years ago, he’s gotten more confident in his performances and has begun to thrive on the corner. Even when people do odd things, like when a drunken group listened to his performance and took off their clothes, Jordan never wants to stop busking.

The conversation turned to the connections Jordan made while busking, the most obvious example being our friendship that  developed after one song. He noted, “Every time I’m in Oxford, there’s twenty people I have to say hi to – a lot of them like you, that I met when I busk.” I still say hello to him every time I pass by, whether it’s a quick high five on my way to Sainsbury’s or a detour for a song or two. Besides the regular passersby, Jordan tries to connect with everyone, no matter their background or whether he knew them or not. When some tourists approached him, he asked where they were from and conversed with each of them in their native languages: English, Spanish, Portuguese, the list went on. How many languages does this man know? Turns out, he’s a polyglot: ten. And this translates to his music: Jordan listens to music of all types and sees what speaks to him most, whether it’s Enrique Iglesias or some of his personal inspirations, Cher and Shania Twain. He also subscribes to the Pete Lock school of singing a crowd pleaser, playing more modern songs for his younger audiences and older songs for the older people that pass by. So out of all of the songs he’s sung, which one is the most popular? “‘Perfect’ by Ed Sheeran. It is a song that everyone knows, and they always say “awwww!” when I sing.” He even learned the lyrics in Italian, which always shocked the Italian speakers that pass by.. 

I know almost all the songs that Jordan sings, probably because I’m part of the young audience he caters to when singing. Most of the songs he does are pop songs, though they are diverse in nature with release date, acousticness, and popularity. I always wondered what his favourite song was. When I asked him that, he laughed and said, “Being a musician, every song is your favourite song. Once you know how to sing it, that’s it. You can make your own version of it and it will be all yours.” I was slightly shell-shocked: he was right, obviously, but I never thought about the slight varieties of each song that an artist puts out. I like the songs I like because of how they make me feel, and it’s lovely to hear how each person covers a certain song. We did talk about some songwriters we loved, though: Jordan is a James Blunt fan. We agreed that  ‘You’re Beautiful’ is up there in terms of both of our favourite songs – shameless plug to listen to it!

We talked about the freedom of singing in an open space where you could pick music rather than having a set list thrown upon you: Jordan much prefers busking to some of his hired events because he could pick what he wants to sing. I have always loved that he takes song requests and dedicates them to that person: having Jordan sing to them makes people brighten up. Though he loves to busk, Jordan dreams about a bigger busking arena: the concert venue. “If someone saw me singing here and came up to me and asked to sign me up, with a record deal? I would, in a heartbeat, say yes… it’s my dream.” For him, busking is a way to showcase and improve  his talents, make people happy, and earn a bit more money to support himself.  

So with all the covers he knows, I wondered if he ever sang any originals. Turns out he has! Jordan’s currently working on an album of originals to release, doing a test run of one of his songs during one of his busking sessions. He described the rush he felt after he finished singing: “It was a shock. People said that it was amazing. You work with your own abilities, make your own lyrics, create your own tune, sing it and people love it? That’s the most special thing you could have.” 

Yet I felt that Jordan’s set was already pretty darn special. Despite doing no advertisement for his sessions (I had to go searching for him every day for a week until I ran into him for the interview), every time he came out, there’d be a crowd more enthusiastic than the last one. His talents are amazing and the song choices are good, but one thing’s for certain: it was his mastery of the social aspect of live music that made Jordan’s set stand out. 

Follow Jordan on Instagram at @jordancarvalhomusic


Illustration credits: Yii-Jen Deng