Busking as a form of begging

From ‘Do not allow busking as a day job’, 17 Apr 2018, ST Forum

(Susan Tan): I have noticed an increasing number of buskers in Singapore. I see some buskers at certain places every day and for most of the day, suggesting that this is their permanent day job.

This should not be allowed.

Busking should never evolve to become a form of begging or a person’s sole source of income. I am also concerned that foreign students are allowed to busk here (On song & coining it; April 15).

Foreign students are here to study and should have sufficient funds to finance their studies, without resorting to busking. Allowing them to do this would encourage more foreigners to come to our shores to earn an income via busking.

Busking is meant to create a vibrant art culture and interesting street life. We should aim to see more of our local talents performing publicly to gain confidence and exposure.

There are many talented people in Singapore and we should support them by giving them more opportunities to perform. Perhaps the National Arts Council could hold monthly events at major parks where local and foreign talents can freely perform.

This will help them gain exposure as well as engage the public in our goal to become a distinctive global city for the arts, and will bring the arts closer to where people live.

There are people out there earning their keep prostituting themselves or blocking passageways running surveys and even the Ministry of Manpower doesn’t get to decide what should or should not be allowed as a day job. The mindset that busking is a form of glorified begging can be traced back to the early eighties, when ‘underpass musicians’ were associated with ‘hippie-like’ groups. 

There was even a time during the nineties when busking was deemed such a nuisance that it was banned from 1994 to 1997, revived just in time for a STB endorsed Buskers’ festival. Not sure why it was banned outright though. Maybe troupes of sword swallowers and fire breathers and parang jugglers were rampant then and we didn’t want passers-by to get set aflame or turn up at the office with a dagger lodged in their back.

Today, we have ordinary people becoming viral stars overnight after jaunting through trains and buses with their ukeleles. Uncles like Tampines MRT dancer Ronald Chua have become endearing role models for active ageing.

Yet, people like Susan Tan remain on this planet, people who would only stop and show their appreciation if the busker they meet in the bus interchange wears a tuxedo and plays a Schubert Opus on the violin. And then walk away without leaving a single cent.

Of course not all buskers are necessarily good entertainers nor contribute to this elusive ‘vibrancy’ that the country needs. For every street guitarist who can create acoustic magic by covering any song by Barbara Streisand, there are others cranking out screechy golden oldies in the middle of your lunch break at the hawker centre.

But like any form of public performance, if you don’t like what you see or hear you can jolly well walk away. You don’t stand on a high pedestal and lecture people on how they should live their lives. In fact, maybe the writer should literally try that for a change. Stand on a platform for hours like busker celebrity Roy Paramal. Yes there will be begging all right – not for spare change, but sweet mother of God’s mercy.

 

 

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