BuskStop's second season bridges gap between street musicians and listeners

BuskStop curators (L-R) Reza Salleh, Fikri Fadzil and Hameer Zawawi. – Norafifi Ehsan/The Star

Busking is being taken to a new level with the launching of BuskStop (Season 2).

Some of the best performing artistes started out as buskers. Norah Jones, Robin Williams, Tracy Chapman and Rod Stewart all began their careers as street performers. A number of famous singers still busk for fun, including Bono, James Morrison and Bruce Springsteen.

But despite the abundance of talent found on the streets, busking is still frowned upon in this part of the world, as people tend to have a negative perception of the trade, often associating it with begging and the homeless.

Most will remember the Central Market busking scene in the 1990s, with some of Kuala Lumpur’s best buskers on parade. The clampdown on these performers back then seems rather excessive in the light of today’s KL seeking to restore some artful soul on its streets.

To raise the bar for street performance and to attract a wider variety of audience, BuskStop (Season 2) was launched last week after the success of the first, albeit low-key, series last year.

BuskStop is a programme initiated by local arts outfit Kakiseni, with the support of the National Department for Culture and Arts (JKKN), to provide a conducive performing environment for buskers as well as to give them the exposure and introduce the busking culture to a new audience.

Seasoned indie performer Francis Wolf has upped his live performances nationwide to include gigs, busking and DIY-related events.

The programme, which commenced on Feb 21, runs every weekend until May 3 at three prominent venues – Pavilion KL, Berjaya Times Square and Quill City Mall. A specially designated zone (BuskStop) will be installed to allow buskers to perform and interact directly with their audience. Every session runs from 30-45 minutes with about 48 selected musicians performing.

“It’s also a way for us to spot creative talent and to enliven the city. We want to make busking a part of KL’s identity, to add vibrancy to the city,” said JKKN’s director-general Datuk Norliza Rofli at the launch in Pavilion KL.

At the event, cello rock band Paladin showed off its musicianship and streetwise charm. Comprising six professional cellists, Paladin first carved its name in the industry when it performed during the Kakiseni Festival in 2013. Since it was discovered, the group has been active and getting plenty of gigs, including the opening act slot for rock group Search at Istana Budaya, Kuala Lumpur, last year.

So far, Paladin is one of the most successful busking groups, earning RM1,000 in generous handouts through its 30-minute sessions in BuskStop’s season one.

If anything, busking culture in Malaysia has received a mainstream profile. Radio stations have organised their own busking events, while places like Dataran Merdeka in KL right to Penang, Ipoh and Langkawi’s tourist/youth culture destinations have seen a steady rise in busking activities.

In a Bernama report last month, Kelab Penghibur Jalanan Malaysia (MY Busking Club) revealed that there are 10,000 buskers nationwide. About 75% of that figure are working the busking circuit full-time.

Singer-songwriter Maha Jeffery entertaining the crowd with his soulful voice.

The new season of BuskStop promises more excitement as the musicians and the audience have a better understanding of busking in public. Buskstop (season 2) has been limited to busking musicians only, and not other street performers.

“Our focus is on music as it is more accessible and has a bigger following. We also want to concentrate on professional buskers, so they can deliver a higher quality of performance for the public to appreciate. I believe certain things need to be consistent before we can change the mindset of the public,” said Kakiseni president Low Ngai Yuen.

The BuskStop curators include singer-songwriters Reza Salleh, Hameer Zawawi and Fikri Fadzil, the founder of The Wknd, a web-based music portal. Together, the trio went scouting for talents around the Klang Valley. According to Reza (the founder of the Moonshine live series), they all had a different method for choosing talents.

“I tended to take talents from the independent music scene. Really, there is no shortage of talent, only performing space. People who have never busked before will find it an interesting experience,” said Reza, who will curate the programme at Pavilion KL.

His roll-call of artistes for the first few editions include Amrita Soon, Zalila Lee, Ashley Chan and himself. “Personally, I love the experience. People don’t know you; they don’t care about you, so, it becomes a good test. You’re solely judged on merit and sheer talent. It’s a good opportunity because they’re getting paid a token. Any tips collected become a bonus,” he said.

BuskStop curators (L-R) Reza Salleh, Fikri Fadzil and Hameer Zawawi. – Norafifi Ehsan/The Star

Fikri approached real street musicians who busked for a living, spending anywhere between four to seven hours on the streets. Street level busking favourites like Francis Wolf, Danyel Hafifi and Ed Rahman are on The Wknd’s list for the next three Saturdays at Berjaya Times Square.

“You’ll be surprised that a lot of them can actually support their families by busking. They determine the pacing and timing to work. We’re not ready to introduce other genres yet because society’s perception towards these people is different,” said Fikri.

For Hameer, who will handle the programme at Quill City Mall, his method was to pick talents from open mic gigs. “Most of the guys are new and have never busked before,” he said. “Bringing them into the busking world was a bit of a culture shock as they have only performed indoors, and that caters to a different crowd. Now, they need to find a strategy to pull in the audience, so it becomes more challenging.”

Hameer’s list features Sid Murshid, Herman Ramanado, Maha Jeffery, Mystery Tapes, Crinkle Cut and Amrita Soon.

For season two, the performers picked by the curators comprise a mixed bag – from newbies to veterans, soloists to duos and groups. So, if you’re walking around any of the participating shopping malls, do spend a few minutes to hear the buskers because applause is food for their souls.

BuskStop (season two) will take place in stages until May 3. Get your updates on BuskStop’s programming on Facebook/Twitter with the hashtag #Buskstop.

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