Father-son busking duo take act from MRT station to NDP stage

Father-son busking duo Mashruddin Saharuddin (left) and Nizaruddin Mashruddin at The Float @ Marina Bay on Wednesday.
Father-son busking duo Mashruddin Saharuddin (left) and Nizaruddin Mashruddin at The Float @ Marina Bay on Wednesday.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

Over the last decade, the busking duo of Mr Mashruddin Saharuddin and his son Nizaruddin usually attract a small crowd of dozens when they perform at their regular spot outside Tampines MRT station.

While Mr Nizaruddin, 27, sings and plays the guitar, Mr Mashruddin, 64 - who is blind from birth - plays the cajon, a box-shaped percussion instrument, and joins in on the vocals.

Come Aug 9, their audience numbers will swell to about 30,000 as they perform on the floating platform for this year's National Day Parade (NDP). The duo are among the protagonists featured in a series of films that will be played throughout the NDP show. Also featuring four others from various walks of life - including sprinter Mary Klass - the films follow the journey of Singaporeans who overcame adversity.

Music runs in Mr Mashruddin's family. He learnt to play the piano at age five, and also plays the guitar, among other instruments. His two older sons also play several instruments; his father, the keroncong, a ukelele-like instrument, while his mum is a good singer.

"I learnt through braille music, cassettes. I even studied under a blind Chinese teacher," he said.

Mr Mashruddin's foray into busking was born out of necessity. He began as an itinerant musician who performed from table to table at restaurants but such gigs were getting hard to come by in the recession years of the late 1980s and 90s.

"All the restaurants which featured musicians closed down, so I had to find other means of living. One way was to play in the streets," he said. But busking was not legal here until the late 1990s. Since he got his busking licence, he has been a fixture in Tampines.

Busking has not been an easy journey. Mr Nizaruddin, who started busking with his father from age 13, said: "Back then, we were deemed as beggars. No matter how hard I tried, people kept insulting me. At times, I felt like crying."

But Mr Nizaruddin, who is studying part-time for a degree, persevered because "I wanted to experience what my father experienced".

These days, busking has become a lot more welcoming. He said: "Today, it seems like everyone wants to try their hands at it."

The duo want to share a message of hope at the NDP. Said Mr Mashruddin: "We have come a long way. This is the sweet fruit of our struggle."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 28, 2018, with the headline 'Father-son busking duo take act from MRT station to NDP stage'. Print Edition | Subscribe