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Summer Street Music Series: Key West

Mallory Square musician Mustafa.
Phillip Davis, NPR /
Mallory Square musician Mustafa.

In Florida's Key West, music is everywhere. It comes from bars, passing boats and cars, and the streets. Along one stretch of the island is a beautiful plaza -- Mallory Square -- that opens up to the aquamarine waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Here, Key West's street musicians compete for the ears of hundreds of tourists passing through.

As a part of All Things Considered's summer street musician series, NPR's Phillip Davis sends a postcard about one Mallory Square performer, called Mustafa, who manages to carve out a tranquil niche, night after night.

Mustafa wields a weathered acoustic guitar, and his dark eyes look as if they've squinted at a thousand sunsets. His movements, says Davis, are as calm as the water in the bay behind him.

With a Caribbean-inflected guitar and a voice as smooth as a cool margarita, Mustafa melds his music to the occasion.

"Right now, the occasion is the sunset," Mustafa tells Davis. "You don't compete with the sunset. You complement it, at most.

Mustafa honed his voice singing in subways in New York, jamming in Jamaica, and performing on European streets. When people hear him, other silky-voiced singers come to mind: Nat King Cole, Lou Rawls, Harry Belafonte.

The voice is infectious and it doesn't take much to pull a few people out of the crowd and create an impromptu chorus.

For Mustafa, Mallory Square is what every performer seeks, a natural stage.

"A busker finds his niche," he explains, "and finds where he is supposed to be and he does what he is supposed to be doing, and the universe takes care of him."

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Phillip Davis
Correspondent Phillip Davis covers South Florida and beyond for NPR. He joined NPR in January 1993, and has reported on such topics as the Elian Gonzalez affair, the disputed 2000 presidential election, and the growing cultural diversity of South Florida. Davis has also filed reports from England, West Africa, and South America for NPR. His pieces can be heard on NPR's award-winning newsmagazines Morning Edition, Weekend Edition, and All Things Considered.
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