Adjournment Motion Speech “Taking busking to the next level” by Mr. Louis Ng Kok Kwang, MP for Nee Soon GRC on 5 August 2019.
Sir, in one of my earlier speeches in this House, I said that, “I’m often asked what special powers I wish I have. My reply has always been that I wish I have the power to turn back time.
As much as I try to live a life without regrets, there will always be regrets and always a wish that we could have done things better, always a wish that we could have spent more time with our loved one.” Regret is truly an incurable ache.
I found myself thinking about this wish again a few months back because I wish I had more time with Yu Xuan and got to know her better. There are some people whom you meet for the first time and you immediately know that they are nice people, genuinely nice. Yu Xuan is one of them.
She is a local artist and busker and passed away on 10th March this year. I had just met her 2 days earlier at an event and was mesmerised by her beautiful voice and her big heart.
She had concerns about and suggestions on how we can improve the busking scene. I told her that I will look into it and catch up with her another time to discuss this further.
Unfortunately, I never got the chance to meet her again but a promise is a promise and I fully intend to keep the promise.
Sir, I spent the past few months meeting with buskers and listening to their concerns and wishes. I met with the National Arts Council as well and learnt about the amazing work they do.
I’ve never been involved in the arts scene before. As someone with two left feet and who can’t sing, dance, draw or paint, and I can tell you that my little daughters do all the above much better than me, I found myself in love with the arts after these meetings.
I met with people so passionate about what they do, so devoted and selfless. We spoke for hours and they were bursting with ideas and suggestions on how we can make things better not just for themselves but for everyone.
Sir, buskers light up our lives and they make Singapore a more vibrant place to live in. Unfortunately, some still view buskers as beggars and, for some, busking is still frowned upon.
It is time to change this perception and recognise buskers as artistes and performers. It is time to fulfill the wishes of the buskers.
Let me start with wishes from 3 groups of buskers.
The ETC’s wish of changing 5 busking sites to 5 busking areas
Sir, I never got to meet Yu Xuan again but I met her band mates Tristan and Joey from The ETC. They became friends through music, with Tristan attending vocal lessons together with Joey, and even taking lessons from Yu Xuan at one point. They started busking together in 2016 just to try it out.
In their words “We sing from our hearts. Singing is like telling a story — when we sing, we interpret the songs and share our meaning and feelings with the audience.”
They did face many difficulties and in particular, Yu Xuan had to overcome many health constraints to continue to busk but through busking she found meaning in life.
Despite problems with her eyesight, then her kidneys, then a stubborn cough, which damaged her vocal cords, then her spine, then her hearing, she never gave up.
The ETC busk because they want to make people believe in music, and comfort and surprise them with this unexpected outdoor encounter.
Sir, their wish is for the removal of the limit of only five busking sites to each successful applicant of a Busking Card. They shared with me how difficult it was for them to find a spot and at times, they spent the night moving in taxis from one location to another with all their equipment. It was especially difficult when Yu Xuan was in a wheelchair.
They hope that instead of five busking sites, it can be five busking areas and in each area, have a few busking sites. This means that buskers can move within an area to find an available site more easily.
They also had an idea of an app, that shows the buskers what sites are taken and what are available, so buskers can move to the locations that are not being occupied instead of travelling all the way there to find that it has been taken.
The app can also be available to the public and they can see where performances are happening and this will help promote the busking scene.
I can understand the complexity of managing such an app but I think it is an idea we should explore further.
Firdaus’ wish of giving everyone a fair chance to perform at hotspots
Sir, Firdaus shares the same concern as The ETC with regard to the difficulty of finding a place to busk.
I met this young man who recently graduated from engineering and has been busking for the past 3 years. In his own words and on his signboard when he busks, “I busk to make the world a better place”.
Busking means the world to him and it gave him a platform to perform and express himself. Through busking, he realised his love for performing on the streets and how every song he sings can make a big impact on a person’s life. For him, it is the most heart-warming feeling ever.
But Firdaus is concerned that the current limited busking sites will cause a problem.
Due to the limited space, chances are buskers will be performing close to each other and most of them will not be happy about it. They may be arguments between the buskers about noise and “stealing” away the crowd.
Due to it being the first-come-first-serve, some buskers come as early as 11am to reserve their “best” spot and only start performing in the evening. Firdaus is concerned that the busking community will turn competitive and lose respect for one another.
One suggestion he has is to have a ballot system for selected busking hotspots. This is done for Covent Garden in London, a world-renowned site for street performances.
There are scheduled time slots for each performance area. Buskers who wish to play put their names on a list and names are drawn to see who gets to choose the most desired time slots first. Names are drawn and slots are chosen until either nobody wants the left over spots or all have been chosen.
Having a balloting system means that everyone will have a fair chance to busk at these hotspots instead of just a few buskers and the public will be able to see a range of performances instead of only the few who had “choped” the spots.
I suggest we implement this for the busking sites in front of Ngee Ann City and at Clarke Quay for a start.
Jonathan’s wish for designated sites for circle acts
We can also be fairer and have more diversity in performances. Not all buskers are singers and I met Jonathan who together with Edwin are known as The Annoying Brothers.
They started busking 5 years ago to push the boundaries of how a circus show can be presented in Singapore.
Jonathan was a youth at risk. He started mixing with bad company when his parents were going through divorce.
He shared with me that “I was lucky as I met someone who introduced circus arts to me, which kept me at bay. If not, I would not have become who I am today and may have ended up in jail.
Because of that, circus arts became a huge passion of mine, and I aspire to become a circus artist, with the aims of developing this art form in Singapore.”
Jonathan also shared that, “Busking also allows me to share my art with people who may not be able to afford shows in the theatre.
When I busk, it allows them to be exposed to the art and also pay how much they can afford or not pay at all and still enjoy the show. Busking allows me to make the world a better place and sometimes change someone’s mood from bad to good because of my show.”
One main issue he faces as a circle act busker is that he has way lesser locations that he can use. Examples of circle acts are magicians, jugglers, acrobats and dance groups. They require a huge amount of space due to the nature of their shows and to ensure public safety.
The issue of the first come first serve also puts them at a huge disadvantage because many musicians or side walk performances come really early to perform and “chope” the space. His kind of performances are usually only possible in the evenings.
One thing he hopes for is for specific sites for circle acts at specific times. This will make it a little fairer and will allow for more diversity of performances.
Singapore’s first Buskers Association
Sir, in the past 5 years, Jonathan also saw that buskers were not talking to one another and he felt the need to connect the community of buskers. He started a Facebook group called Singapore Buskers with an aim of making the busking community more closely knitted.
He wants to take it one step further and I am delighted to share that Jonathon together with fellow buskers Fadhil, Yong Kang, Benjamin, Fridaus and Marcus will register a Buskers Association that will help take busking to the next level in Singapore.
The association will work closely with the National Arts Council and will also be supported by timbre. It is a beautiful collaboration between the people, public and private sector and I am delighted to support this association.
I will also walk the talk in terms of my support for busking. In addition to the current site at Yishun Park, I’m planning to have two new busking sites in Nee Soon East. One at the Yishun Park Hawker Centre and the other at our brand new Oasis Water Park @ Nee Soon East. The area will also be a test bed for a balloting system for busking.
This new association will work closely with my team to manage these new sites, ensure that it is well run and look into any feedback and address any concerns from both buskers and residents.
Sir, in conclusion the buskers wish that:
1. They can be allocated five busking areas instead of five busking sites.
2. A busking app be created.
3. We have ballot system for certain busking hotspots.
4. We have specific busking sites for circle acts at specific times.
Sir, in the words of William Wan “A smile, a word of encouragement or, best of all, a contribution will go a long way in creating a supportive environment for these buskers to continue living their passion, while earning some money from it.
They do enliven the streets of Singapore, providing wholesome entertainment, lifting up our spirits and lightening our mood. Busking provides the colours in an otherwise grey concrete jungle.
Surely, such a simple but meaningful contribution to the arts is worthy of being treated as a “real” job for those who go down that road less trodden?”
Sir, one of the last songs that Yu Xuan sang was Hai Kuo Tian Kong ( 海阔天空), a song alluding to one’s struggles to stay true to one’s ideals while facing the inevitable headwinds and storms in life.
I guess it was apt that this was one of the last songs she sang and this is perhaps symbolic of the struggles she faced and the struggles buskers face.
Singapore and Singaporeans will miss her beautiful voice in our heartlands where she used to busk.
She will be remembered for sharing her love for music with everyone and for nurturing the next generation of buskers.
She will be remembered for her passion for music, for never giving up and for her fighting spirit. This speech is dedicated to her.
Sir, buskers like Yu Xuan, Tristan, Joey, Firdaus, Jonathan, Edwin, Fadhil, Yong Kang, Benjamin and Marcus help make this world a better place and we should help make Singapore a better place for them too. I hope we can make their wishes come true. Thank you.
Watch the speech here
Watch the response by MCCY here