Some Malaysian buskers aim to show that performing on the streets can be a good way for young talents to express themselves and develop their art.
FAKHRUL Nizam Fauzi was only 16 when he had his first taste at busking. He says he saw some people busking at food stalls and noted that they had a good colletion.
“I thought I've got talent, why not try it myself?” he says.
So, armed with a tambourine, he teamed up with a senior busker and played outside Hokkaido Restaurant in Kuala Lumpur.
The first song he sang was Stand By Me and they made RM70, which they split between them.
“I felt syok (good) because I could get money fast,” he says.
Unfortunately for Fakhrul, his partner had many other busker friends and he kept being left behind.
So he learnt to play the guitar in three months and after leaving school, he started playing gigs at clubs and hotels, earning RM2,500 a month. But he found out soon enough that it wasn't quite his thing.
“I didn't want to be tied down. With busking you are freer. If there is a wedding or a dinner or event where people invite you to play, you are free to go for it,” says Fakhrul who is now 22 and has been busking for six years.
For wedding or dinner events, depending on the function, they can make up to RM5,000.
His two younger brothers - Fazdzul Aswat, 20, and Faizul Ashraf, 18 - and a friend, Mohd Amirul Helmi Halim, 20, have joined him and they go by the name “The Buskers”.
Busking is a form of street performance and can range from singing, dancing, fire-eating, juggling, contortioning and mime to playing instruments or anything that people find entertaining. Busking is very common in the street corners, subway stations and other public areas in Europe, Australia, the UK and a number of other countries. Buskers usually do it for tips.
In fact, some well-known performers, like American singer-songwriter and four-time Grammy award winner Tracy Chapman, known for her singles Fast Car and Talkin' bout a Revolution, were discovered while busking. Even famous singers who have made it, like Jessie J, and James Morrison, still busk once in a while for the fun of it. Other famous buskers include Jon Bon Jovi, Eric Clapton and Rod Stewart
“We are interested in music. This is not really a hobby because it is a way for us to earn a living,” says Fakhrul.
They are regulars at Ampang Point and busk in groups of two, six days a week outside restaurants there.
“We picked Ampang Point because there are lots of foreigners there and they are generous with their tips,” he says.
Fazdzul adds that they make it a point to ask permission from the restaurant owners before they do their busking.
“Even the restaurant owners give us tips because people eating at the restaurant enjoy the music,” he says.
They make between RM100 and RM200 a day per person.
The best places to busk in Malaysia, Fazdzul says, is Klang Valley and Langkawi.
Aizad Azman, 22, used to play back-up for artistes and do stints in clubs, but over the past year he has been busking and is now hooked to it.
“I feel that playing on the street is more sincere. I like busking at Sogo (shopping complex) because there is a good crowd there and the people are sporting. There is also an interesting mix of people. You have the young, the old, kids and even mad people,” he says.
“People give us money but if they don't, we are fine with it too.”
He says they busk on days when it isn't raining and can get from RM70 to RM300 to RM400 a day per person for a four- to five-hour stint.
Aizad busks with Mohd Asri Asnawi, 28, who plays the flute. Asri says he went busking alone in Hadyaai once and found people there really receptive and open to busking.
“In Malaysia, it's okay in some places but in others the municipal council (officers) come after us and chase us. Perhaps it has to do with power. They want to exert their power or something,” he says.
Aizad and Asri, who call themselves the “Alam Buskers”, will be part of a Buskers Fest 2012 at KLCC next Saturday.
Organiser Wady Hamdan estimates there are about 500 buskers in the Klang Valley and the Buskers Fest will bring together 50 of them.
“Generally, if the authorities do not kacau' (disturb) them, they will stay and busk in one area. They don't like to move around like nomads,” says Wady.
“The authorities still go after the buskers, saying that busking disturbs the tourists when in fact it doesn't. It is a form of entertainment and the tourists enjoy it.
“We want to tell the authorities like DBKL to please give some space to buskers and appreciate them because they contribute to the life in KL. If there are no buskers, KL would be dull,” he adds.
Wady says they chose KLCC for the Buskers Fest because they want to show that buskers are free to sing and dance and perform anywhere.
It will be a one-day event and there will be singers, magicians, artists, dancers, shufflers, break dancers and a flash mob.
“If you go around, you will see we have a lot talent out there. Busking is not a form of begging. At concerts, you pay for tickets first and then you get to hear the music,” Wady stresses.
“But with buskers, you get to hear the music first and only after that, if you like them, you give them some money. You give money based on their performance.”
Wady says if he had talent and could sing and make RM300 to RM400 busking per night, he too would go for it.
“There is no headache. And you get make money quick.”
The buskers themselves do not envisage doing their street performances until they grow old.
“We'd probably do this for another two years or so,” says Fazdzul, who reveals plans to “get our own sound system and rent it out.”
Discipline is important for them, too, he says. “We make sure that we dress up smart and neat and we don't smoke while busking. There has to be some professionalism there.”
He says they draw their inspiration from KRU, which started out as a boy band and has now emerged as a huge business with a production house and studio.
Mohd Amirul writes songs as well, and says they want to break into the music industry.
“Busking is a way for us to collect funds to put away for our future. Every day we put away RM100,” he says, adding that some patrons who have heard them play have sat down with them and advised them about going into business and planning for the future.
“We are grateful that people want to teach us. And then later when we've made it, we will busk as a hobby and not to earn a living,” he says.
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