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Busking 101: An introduction to Singapore's busking scene

With a guitar in their hands, the wind in their hair and a song on their lips, talented youngsters are taking the music to the street

Ken Loh
Photo: Ken Loh
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Find yourself stopping in your tracks to listen to an acoustic rendition of Oasis’ Wonderwall along Orchard Road? You’re not alone. Singapore's home to plenty of street musicians who turn public spaces into their stage – with special permits, of course.

Opening doors for street performers in the city, the Busking Scheme was introduced in 1997 to champion talented individuals and give carte blanche to express themselves and interact with the audience in a public setting. To be able to do so, have to apply early and prep up for the audition in advance. You'll then be notified within four to five weeks from the date of the audition. Once you've received the Busking Card, you're free to flex your musical chops within a validity period at designated busking locations including Orchard Road, Chinatown, Kampong Glam and Marina Bay.

But contrary to popular belief, buskers aren’t just performing for your loose change. We chat to some of the city's talented street performers to get to know what goes on behind the covers and mash-ups. Who knows? One of them might be a viral video away from becoming the next Ed Sheeran or Justin Bieber.

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Meet the buskers

Ken Loh

Ken Loh

@kenlohty

This 22-year-old musician has spent three years performing at Wisma Atria where the grandstand-like steps make a great alternative to stadium seats.

Why busk?
"Busking is the rawest and most authentic medium of music sharing. It’s not only DIY but also very personal. You get to control the setlist and the sound equipment – a lot of thought and effort is employed at every juncture to encapsulate the music and spirit of the artist. Plus, the immediacy of feedback is equal parts daunting and motivating. This drives me to give every song it’s due."

What got you started?
"I chanced upon a band called Woodlock during my family vacation in Melbourne. It was the first time I witnessed the true potential of busking. They were extremely joyous to watch, attracting massive crowds. From then on, I was determined to engage myself in busking here."

Fyrdauz Macbeth

Muhammad Firdaus

@fyrdauzmacbeth

Also known as Fyrdauz Macbeth, the music explorer had a stint in hip-hop and acapella groups before going solo in 2016.

What kind of songs do you usually play?
"I usually perform oldies, R&B and pop classics – something that can cater to everybody, regardless of age or language. I love covering Richard Marx’s Right Here Waiting."

Do you have a fanbase?
"I do! Fans show up from time to time just to catch a few songs or even have a short conversation."

How do you prep for a show?
"I make sure my batteries are charged and pack my audio equipment the night before. Most importantly, I fill my large water bottle to the brim – busking is hard work."

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Andrew

Andrew Paul Chen

@andrewpaulchen

Only 20, this budding singer-songwriter is a familiar face in Orchard. Don’t be fooled by his quiet demeanor, Andrew puts up an energetic show.

What got you started?
"I was inspired by a friend of mine, Ken Loh, and started busking in June. I remember being so touched by his heartfelt performance that I went home that night and resolved to start playing anywhere I could."

Guilty pleasures to perform?
"Some of my favourite covers are Coldplay’s The Scientist, Mac Ayres’ Easy and Damien Rice’s Delicate. But I take requests all the time!"

What do you want your listeners to know?
"I see a lot of familiar faces but I wish they’d be less shy and come and say hi after a gig. Especially the guy that sits down with a different girl every Friday!"

Shaun G

Shaun G

@genesiskeefermusic

This hip-hop beatmaker started beatboxing in 2013 and decided to take it to the streets when he finessed his guitar skills four years ago.

What do you like about busking?
"It's a good way to practise new material without the fear of messing up as compared to performing at gigs."

Where's the best place to busk?
"It's based on how heavy the pedestrian traffic flow is. Peak hours are usually from the afternoon to evening on weekends at places like Orchard and Somerset."

Describe your musical style.
"I lean heavily on rhythm because I grew up listening to hip-hop and it really made me a more groove-oriented person. However, I do enjoy covering HONNE, Ed Sheeran, Kodaline and John Mayer too."

How do you draw a crowd?
"I jam out a groovy freestyle on my guitar in between songs. After I’ve got the crowd's attention, I’ll get on with the actual song and get them to sing."

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The Moon buskers

The Moon House

@the_moon_house

Students by day, buskers by night – meet Rachel Tai and Genevieve Tan who bonded over music while studying psychology at Ngee Ann Polytechnic.

What inspires you to busk?
Rachel "I never imagined myself ever doing this. It's out of my comfort zone but I’ve always loved playing music and singing. Busking allows me to do something I love for the enjoyment of others."

Gen "It also feels satisfying when people show that they like what we do – whether it’s through giving us tips or talking to us."

Where do you usually busk?
"We’re only allocated five locations by the National Arts Council based on our preference. We’ve busked at Marina Bay and Orchard so far but we prefer Marina Bay as it's more chill and the crowd tends to stick around longer and are more engaged."

Any memorable performances?
"We performed Ed Sheeran’s Perfect and had an old couple break into a waltz in front of us. Someone else did a contemporary dance along to the song."

Muhammad Ridhwan

@wanuenue

You may know him as one part of The Jukuleles.

When did you start busking?
"My first busking gig was in September 2013. I went on hiatus in 2015 but got back on track when I got inspired by the buskers in Melbourne. I haven’t stopped since!"

What instruments do you play?
"I switch between the ukulele and the guitar to accompany my vocals. I also use a loop station to keep the music going." 

How are you different from other buskers?
"I throw in a couple of mash-ups, extended plays, switch up tempos and more. It’s all about playing a song like it's yours and not how it’s supposed to sound like. People love it when I cover Whitney Houston’s I Wanna Dance With Somebody."

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