Busk overseas for exposure

Home-grown acts say taking their music to the streets overseas helped them raise their game

Indie-folk duo The Glad Stones' Marcel Lee Pereira (left) and Jaye Foo (in shades) once busked in Osaka, Japan, from 8pm to midnight and are game for more of such experiences.
Indie-folk duo The Glad Stones' Marcel Lee Pereira (left) and Jaye Foo (in shades) once busked in Osaka, Japan, from 8pm to midnight and are game for more of such experiences. ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

Earlier last year, home-grown indie-folk duo The Glad Stones decided to take their act a little farther from their usual busking haunts around Haji Lane. All the way to the streets of Japan, in fact.

Busking in the city of Osaka turned out to be a game-changer for singer- songwriters Marcel Lee Pereira, 33, and Jaye Foo, 22. Pereira says: "Many buskers there take their shows seriously and are of a high standard, and usually have a crowd of locals gathered around them. Likewise, we had to step up our game.

"That night of busking in Osaka felt more like a performance in a real venue and we were inspired to push ourselves further after that positive experience."

Never mind that the Japanese could not understand their original tunes, taken from their 2012 debut album, Gypsy In The City. The duo were "pleased with the response from the people there".

"Many weren't able to understand our lyrics, which are in English, but that did not seem to matter as long as the music sounded good to them," says Pereira. "It also helped that Jaye could converse in Japanese and introduced us."

Singapore musicians have taken - and are still taking - their music abroad. But instead of flashy venues or juggernaut festivals, some opt to lay the groundwork for international exposure by busking in foreign lands.

In the mid-1990s, singer-songwriter Art Fazil used to sing for British commuters in London's Tube stations. He had just moved there to be a musician and to study at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. "I heard from the older musicians in Singapore that the London buskers are very good musicians. And some famous musicians used to busk before they got big. I thought to myself, 'Well, let's see if I fit in'," says Art, 46, who is now mostly based in Malaysia.

He made up to £30 a day - equivalent back in those days to "one week's rent in East London". He recalls: "Most Londoners are easy about contributing to busking musicians. Sometimes they give sandwiches, beer, flowers, and I even got a kiss on the cheek from a girl once."

His busking days are long gone, as he is busy performing in the region and running his own record label, Moro Records, based in Malaysia, these days.

Another home-grown act who has busked overseas is beatboxer Dharni Ng, who has performed in the streets of Poland and Switzerland. He has been based in Warsaw in the past few years and does proper gigs around Europe, but still busks occasionally "for fun".

"In Warsaw, I did it in front of mostly tourists. It was good experience but it's not something I would do too often because I have other shows to do," says Ng, 27. He adds he made "enough for a meal" on his foreign busking stints.

For The Glad Stones, playing in Osaka from 8pm to midnight in one night in April last year meant that they made 10,000 yen (S$120) from passers-by who bought 10 of the 30 CDs they took with them.

"Our aim was to experience busking," adds Pereira. "It was a bonus having our albums bought by passers-by who were hearing us for the first time."

They also performed at small pubs and bars in the city of Kobe to audiences of up to 50. They were not paid for those gigs.

Choosing the right location to busk is an art in itself, say the musicians, as there are many factors to consider.

The Glad Stones chose an area near the Osaka train station as it was already an established spot for buskers. However, that meant having to work out a schedule with the other musicians who perform there. "For the popular spots around Osaka station, there is usually a 'queue'. These buskers will take turns to use the popular spots," says Pereira.

Art was canny enough to target people who would most likely have a lot more loose change to give - commuters who worked in the finance industry. "I placed myself at Bank Station which is the city centre, like our Raffles Place. That's where the bankers are. And since most of them work late and take the late train home, I was strategically placed. That's how I made £30 in two hours. Bankers are good tippers."

The experience in Japan has inspired The Glad Stones to busk outside Singapore more often.

Pereira says: "We are planning a gig in the region this year and we hope to do some busking around that.

"We love the freedom of busking and would do it anywhere around the world, if and when we get the chance to. We feel closer to the audience on the street."


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