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Busking in Singapore

Do you know that Singapore has a rich busking culture that most of us are unaware of? Youth.SG meets young and talented buskers to know more about the busking culture.

When we say busker, most people think of a disabled person performing near shopping malls to earn a living. That is far from the truth.

Youth.SG
met a group of young and talented buskers who are trying to change that impression. To them, being a busker simply means performing on the streets.

Willie Li, 29, has been busking on the streets for two years. He specialises in juggling, crystal ball manipulations and the diabolo, which is a juggling prop. His performances are unique, compared to the more common guitar and singing performances on Orchard Road.

"I see busking as a good marketing strategy to take my performances to other places, such as receiving invitations to perform for events," said Willie. He was invited to perform for Mood Indigo in 2011, Asia's largest college cultural festival held in India.


WILLIE PERFORMING IN INDIA TO AN ENTHUSIASTIC CROWD.
PHOTO CREDIT: WILLIE


Fellow busker Ivan Ng, 21, who performs the Appalachian Mountain dulcimer at Orchard Road, agrees: "You never know who you might meet. I have been approached to perform for professional events."

However, these little milestones do not come easily. Busking on the streets is mentally taxing, warned Willie, who, advises youths who are planning to embark on this journey, to be mentally prepared.


THEY ARE INTERESTED, BUT THEY JUST DON'T STAY.


He said: "Sometimes, the audience leave halfway to go shopping and as a performer, I don't feel good because it makes me feel that my show is not good or interesting enough to make them stay."


BUT SOMETIMES, THEY STAY TO LISTEN.


Busking is also territorial in Singapore, we learnt, as buskers get protective of their spots. "When you find a good spot, you just get protective of it. You also wouldn't want other buskers too close to you – that might affect your performance and the audience wouldn't focus on you," said Willie, who busks at Clarke Quay.

That is true, as Ivan has had an unpleasant experience once. He was performing at the bridge in Clarke Quay when a fellow busker went up to him and got him to move away. It turned out that he was occupying the fellow busker's spot. "It was quite a scary experience because I was new during that time," said Ivan.

Buskers also face the reality of irregular income. Willie revealed: "On a bad day, we may earn a few dollars while on a good day, we can earn $80 to $100."

Despite the challenges, most buskers press on and work hard, hoping to get talent spotted and taken to the big stage. Some big breaks do happen. Just ask Wicked Aura Batucada, a 13-piece band made up of mostly drummers, with percussionists and one vocalist. 

They took to the streets in 2000 to promote their music – a fuse of Afro-Brazilian samba, punk and funk. Said Idham Budiman, 30s, who is better known as Budi, the frontman of the band: "Our kind of music wasn’t really known to the public here so we decided to busk. Also, samba actually came from the streets. It's always been a communal thing to play this kind of music."


WICKED AURA BUSKING EARLY THIS YEAR IN JANUARY.
PHOTO CREDIT: WICKED AURA.


After releasing two EPs and an album internationally in 2008, they are working on their second album while performing at places such as the Esplanade outdoor theatre and Big Wig Festival.

What do they think of making it big through busking in Singapore?

"It is possible. It is as common as artistes who are discovered online or in clubs," said Budi.

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