“I was humbled by the kindness and generosity of people who would buy me coffee on a cold day, juice on a hot day and provide Daisy (my dog who I often busk with) an endless supply of treats. I’ve even had homeless people donate to me every now and then and it’s crazy to think people with so little could be so giving.
Before playing on the streets I was a very cynical person, but these experiences have shaped a new perspective for me and for that I’m so thankful. It’s made me a better artist and I believe, a better person.”Ant Utama
Born to Indonesian parents and raised in Auckland, Ant Utama is a first generation Kiwi. Ant says his parents were determined to give he and his younger sister opportunities they never had growing up, “our days were full of extra-curricular activities, learning piano and violin being a couple of them,” he said. Pushed a little too hard to practice often, he lost interest in those instruments, until an opportunity arose to audition for a High School musical production of Marius, Ant scored the lead role and says this was the turning point when his passion for music and performing returned.
With singing and songwriting his side hustle, Ant studied a Marketing degree and worked in that field for eight years. “It’s only been the last couple years that I thought I’d throw caution to the wind and actually go full time with my music,” he said. “I was turning 30 and it definitely is one of those milestones where you reflect and think, if I don’t do this now, I’ll regret it for the rest of my life.”
Ant says in his comfort zone, with the security of a steady income, he used to see music as an unattainable dream, but 18 months ago, against the wishes of his parents, he packed up what courage he could fit in his backpack and headed to Germany to follow his heart.
“I found myself living by busking the streets of Cologne and from interactions with friendly passers-by I realised I wasn’t the only one going through a transformative journey, So many people are hustling” Ant explains in his website bio.
The singer/songwriter says that, armed with new experiences and encounters, he found his purpose as an artist, which he believes is to inspire and encourage people to pursue their dreams and aspirations, he hopes that through his music he can encourage others to be brave and live our their passions.
Busker What’s Your Story? caught up with Ant recently, during a busking hiatus given the current COVID-19 pandemic, and learned a little more about this talented and soulful artist.
You say you’re an avid traveller – for the moment you’ve settled in Cologne, Germany – why Colgone?
My first travel experience was about 6 years ago. I had just come out of a long-term relationship and a friend suggested that I join her on a Europe trip. So I did that, but after Europe I travelled to the US and then South East Asia where I fell for a girl in a hostel in Hanoi, Vietnam.
We travelled together for a while and of course eventually had to part ways – she went back home to Germany, and I returned to New Zealand.
After 6 painful months of long distance and Skype calls, my girlfriend, Alida, moved to NZ where we lived together for a couple of years. She was missing her family and wanted to go back to Germany, so I said Sure, let’s go! But before we arrived in Germany, we went on another backpacking trip to South America, Mexico and California. In January 2019 we moved to Cologne, because it’s the closest big city to her parents, they live about an hour’s drive away. I’m very happy here, the people are so friendly and welcoming and I think it’s a good spot to be on my musical journey.
“Street Music has never been the dream.. it was always meant to be the first step in the right direction. Little did I know how much wisdom and perspective I would gain from the experience” – those are your words. Tell me about that?
Street Music and busking was always a way to earn some money, and a good way to practice and get better. I think for a lot of buskers, it is just meant to be a start.
At first I would always be a bit nervous. I would think: ‘Will people like it? Will they pay me any attention? Will they tell me to shut up?’ Then my experiences would always surprise me. In a world that can sometimes feel like it is falling apart, my time playing on the street lets me see the best side of humanity.
I was humbled by the kindness and generosity of people who would buy me coffee on a cold day, juice on a hot day and provide Daisy (my dog, who I often busk with) an endless supply of treats. I’ve even had homeless people donate to me every now and then and it’s crazy to think people with so little could be so giving.
Before playing on the streets I was a very cynical person, but these experiences have shaped a new perspective for me and for that I’m so thankful. It’s made me a better artist and I believe, a better person.
Tell me a little more about ‘Lazy Miss Daisy’ – everyone loves a puppy story!
My little Lazy Miss Daisy! Alida and I did a backpacking trip around South America, Mexico and California. Well in Mexico, in a small little mountain town called ‘San Jose del Pacifico,’ we got lost while hiking. All of a sudden, this random street dog comes along and sits by us. We followed this dog for about 30 minutes, she would run up ahead and then wait for us every few metres and eventually she led us back to the town. For the next 5 days she hung out with us, she’d be waiting outside our room every morning and would sit under the table when we went to restaurants. We fell in love! So we adopted her! We got her a checkup and vaccinations and she joined us on our journey. We flew to California for a one month-long road trip, where the 3 of us slept in the car every night and we brought her all the way here to Cologne where she now lives with us. In the previous question I mentioned taking risks – this is exactly the sort of thing I’m talking about!
How long have you been busking, or how often do you busk?
Back home in NZ, I would busk at Farmers Markets. Whilst technically it’s busking, it’s not the same as hitting the streets.
I’ve been busking for a bout 18 months now in Germany. At the beginning I would play 5-6 days a week for 5 hours a day. It depends on the season. Lately I’ve been playing less because I’ve been busy with gigs, but now in this Corona crisis we find ourselves in, I really miss it.
So.. This week I decided I would get out my Roland Street Cube Ex and put on a concert for my neighbours who were sitting on their balconies. It wasn’t about money, it was just about playing for an audience again for the first time in a long time. People responded so well, people on their walks would stop and I could really see the neighbourhood being brought together – that’s the power of music!
I did another 2 more concerts and I have many more planned. If the weather is good, I’m going to be out playing under people’s balconies!
What’s a memorable experience you’ve had busking?
I was once playing outside a Euroshop (like a Dollar store) with my dog, Daisy. A homeless guy walked into the store. A few minutes later he came out with two chocolate bars, dog treats, and a candle. He gave me the chocolate, he gave Daisy the dog treats and he took the candle with him to the other side of the street. He lit the candle and he listened to me play for the next hour. I was so touched by his kindness and generosity and it’s moments like these that have given me new perspectives in life.
You write your own material – picking a couple of favourite originals what can you tell me about the story behind your songs?
The first song I’ll mention was my first single called ‘Brave‘ (featured above). I wrote it after a phone conversation with my Dad. My Facebook feed was covered with busking photos and he was concerned (after all, I had this Marketing career in NZ, working in the office 9-5). I tried to explain to him that I knew what I was doing and that I had a plan, but I couldn’t get him to understand.
We hung up the phone upset at each other and I had a little cry. With that emotion brewing I wrote Brave. I would sing this out on the street and I noticed people would connect to it. Photographers, wedding planners, restaurant owners, people who were creative or simply following their passions were feeling the same feelings and going through the same challenges as I was.
From then on I decided my mission and purpose as an artist would be to inspire people not to settle in life and to pursue their dreams.
The second song is ‘Your New Home’. This is a tribute song for the terror attack that happened back home in New Zealand on 15 March 2019.
An extremist with radical views attacked two mosques, resulting in 51 people losing their lives. The victims were all Muslim, many immigrants and refugees. These people moved from their home countries to New Zealand to live a safe life with opportunities for themselves and their families. Sadly this right was stolen from them by one evil person. I wrote this song to show that he was alone in his views and that New Zealand is an accepting place. I also wanted immigrants all over the world to feel welcome in their new homes. This song is meant to remind people that we need to accept and embrace each other – that is the only way forward.
If you could choose a lyric from any song that means something really special for you – what would that lyric be?
My lyric would probably be from my song, Brave which I mentioned above:
“What I’ve learnt, doubt is a demon and he wants to call your bluff. But I don’t give in. I stand my ground when it comes to push and shove”.
I believe we live a more fulfilled life when we take risks – physically and emotionally, these are what make us feel alive. But it’s often doubt that prevents us from taking these risks. Doubt from others and self-doubt in our own heads. I’ve learnt that (in order to allow ourselves to live more purposeful and rewarding lives) we need to shift our mindset and believe in ourselves more.
What’s a great piece of advice you’ve been given in your lifetime and who gave you that advice?
It’s not from from a book I read: “If you have a backup plan, you haven’t yet made a decision“. I understand, rationally that it’s always good to have a backup plan, but when we have those insurances, I think it makes us less hungry. If it’s our ONLY option.. we’re going to make it work, because we have to.
You performed a great audition for ‘The Voice Germany’ but didn’t make it through the blinds – what did you learn from that experience? Would you recommend the reality TV shows to young musicians – or is it better to find your own way through?
Haha thanks! I don’t think it was my best performance, I was a bit shaky with the nerves.
What most people don’t know, is that none of the contestants on this show get to choose their song, yet the most common criticism from the judges are that it was the wrong song choice!
I also had to interview in German which I was even more nervous about than my performance! It was an interesting experience and I am glad I gave it a shot. I think it can be a great way of getting exposure, but if you do progress further in the competition you may have to compromise your artistry. I think it’s better suited to singers (rather than songwriters).
These shows just want cover songs, which is a shame to me because hearing an artist’s own song can really give you an in depth glimpse into who they are as a person. So if you love singing but don’t write, I’d say give it a shot, there’s some good exposure to be made! But if you’re more of an authentic artist who creates their own music, I would suggest going your own way.
What’s next for Ant Utama? Where can people expect to see you perform once this Coronavirus situation is under control?
Once everything is officially under control, I’ll be back playing everywhere I can.. the streets, open mic nights, song slams and concerts in venues.
I’m also looking forward to getting back into the studio to record. I was planning on an EP release in May this year, which has been impacted, but that will come out as soon as we have a better idea of when and how the restrictions will be lifted.
You can hear more of Ant Utama’s vocal and instrumental talents on his socials here: