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More young buskers take to the streets of Singapore

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What draws these youths towards the competitive busking scene?

You can find them on the streets of Orchard Road in the evenings, serenading pedestrians with their guitar strings and melodic voices. 

These young buskers liven up the otherwise mundane shopping district with acoustic covers from popular artists like Ed Sheeran and Bruno Mars.

Despite having to deal with unpredictable weather changes and the long process of obtaining a busking licence, the number of youth buskers in Singapore seems to grow.

Busking for exposure

Most of the youth buskers Youth.SG spoke to shared that they started busking to hone their performance skills.

We observed some of them performing from a distance. They often performed with confidence, effortlessly changing up and putting their own spin on popular tunes.

24-year-old Muhammad Firdaus started busking two years ago as he wanted to discover himself as a solo performer.

"I was always participating in a group for performing arts, be it in dance or a cappella. So, I wanted to try something new; to venture out and do something solo," said Firdaus, who goes by the stage name Fyrdauz Macbeth.

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A versatile performer of multiple genres, Firdaus often busks outside 313@Somerset or Mandarin Gallery.

For newcomer busker Teo Yong Kang, 21, busking gives him a chance to perform more regularly.

"When I first started [in 2017], I had just finished my 'A' Levels. I didn't receive many performance opportunities other than the occasional school event.

"Busking seemed like a way to get myself out there…It gives me a unique platform to perform to a large crowd, even if the crowd is mostly transient," shared the Singapore Management University student.

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Yong Kang, who usually busks at The Cathay (above) and Tampines Interchange, enjoys singing English and Mandarin pop songs.

Interaction with people on the streets

These youth buskers don't just sing. They also interact with their audiences to show their appreciation to those who take the time to listen to them. 

Also new to the scene, acoustic duo The Moon House started busking as they enjoyed meeting new people on the streets.

The pair, National University of Singapore undergraduate Rachel Tai, 21, and Laselle undergraduate Genevieve Tan, 21, favours acoustic indie tunes by Foster the People and Vance Joy.

Rachel, who is studying social work, said: "Busking has increased my confidence in public speaking and performing. Every month, I look forward to [busking] to have fun and meet new people."

In the middle of one of their sets, we even saw a passer-by approaching The Moon House to perform a song with them.

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Genevieve (left) and Rachel (right) from The Moon House started busking last December to earn extra cash.

Thrill of performing

For other youths, the thrill of performing on the streets is a huge draw.

21-year-old Ken Loh, who has been busking for three years, said: "It is the freedom [of] being able to perform anything you want. It is challenging and exciting at the same time.

"I think it's amazing when people sit down out of their own will because they want to listen [to my music], and you're there because you want to perform," he said.

We could sense the veteran busker's enthusiasm in his performance. Throughout his set, Ken cheerfully thanked anyone who left a tip without missing a beat on his guitar or keyboard.

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With his violinist (right), Ken (left) used to perform by the steps of Wisma Atria on weekends.

Some get lucky breaks

While busking provides opportunities for these youths to showcase their talents, some are lucky enough to take their passion further.

In January this year, Ken released his first EP, Songs About Them, thanks to the people he met through busking.

"Another busker introduced me to Edric Hwang from GRYD studios, who recorded and produced my EP," said Ken, who is now studying music in JMC Academy in Australia.

Following the release of his EP, Ken plans to write more music and hopes to produce a full-length album one day.

Competing for spaces

However, with the influx of new buskers, there are challenges too. Fights over limited busking spots are common, we learnt.

True enough, midway through our interview with Yong Kang, Yong Kang gave up his spot outside The Cathay to another busker who came by to set up his equipment.

Yong Kang said later that he felt obliged to give up his spot to the other busker, who is more experienced.

Yong Kang recalled an incident in Tampines, where he was chased away from a busking spot: "Busking is all fun and games until another person comes by directly challenging your 'livelihood'. 

"Although everybody has a right to be there… some claim the spot is theirs. Do you really want to [deal with] confrontation when all you want is to have fun and pursue your passion?"

Firdaus also struggles with getting busking spots along Orchard Road: "One of the worst parts of busking is when people claim busking spots. I don't believe in that. It should be on a first come, first served [basis]."

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Buskers are required to display their busking card (above) during their performances.

The audience keeps them going

Challenges aside, these youths are thankful for the support they receive from their audience – and their loved ones.

Yong Kang said: "Every time I bump into somebody I know, their first question will always be 'Eh, Yong Kang! When are you busking again?'"

The lively busking atmosphere and appreciative audience also keeps them on their feet, even if it means performing for an average of three hours each time.

"It doesn't matter what song you sing, but people will love you for what you do and the music you play," said Firdaus, who is studying electrical power engineering at Singapore Institute of Singapore.

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Rachel (left) and Genevieve (right) busk twice a month at Marina Bay Sands.

Likewise, The Moon House feels encouraged by the support they receive from complete strangers whenever they stumble during their sets.

"The first few times we busked, we would overthink and be filled with regret whenever we made mistakes. 

"But after seeing how forgiving [audiences] are towards imperfect performances, we started not taking it to heart and just focused on having fun," said Rachel.

PHOTO CREDITS: YOUTH.SG/YASIRA HANNAN