“There was a man that passed by me a lot with his little girl, probably on their way to and from her school. She was around 6 years old and (for a couple of years) would love to hear me play and danced to my music every time they passed by. At the time, I got hired for a theatre play and was away from town and the streets most of the time for nearly a year.
Then I came back and started busking regularly again and one day they encountered me once more. The father obviously remembered me and stopped walking so she could hear my playing and dance to my music again, but she didn’t. He looked at me sadly as they went on their way. Guess I’ll never know if she was just sad that day, or if she felt she was too grown up now to dance in the middle of the sidewalk.”
Pablo Vares de Azevedo
Pablo Vares de Azevedo is a 30 year old flamenco guitarist born and raised in Uruguay who has been living and working in Brazil for the past 8 years.
Pablo’s wonderful finger picking talent on the alluring flameco guitar drew us to invite him to the blog to tell us a little about his experiences as a musician and busker.
Tell us about growing up in Uruguay?
Uruguay is a quiet country and I grew up in a quiet neighbourhood. I was able to go to school by riding my bike or walking and used to play a lot outside my house, in parks and in the streets. People were very educated and respectful. Music was always present at home. Both my parents and my three brothers play at least one instrument and my oldest brother was a professional musician way before me. One thing I remember a lot is the sound of my mum playing piano at home during my childhood.
Where do you busk and if you could pick a favourite location for busking where would that be?
I have busked in many cities in three different countries. Where I busk regularly is here, in Rio de Janeiro. I loved to play on the corner of Visconde de Pirajá and Vinícius de Moraes street. There was a closed store, so less chances of someone complaining about the music and also I never saw others busking there. So it kind of became my place to play. I played there a lot, people in the neighbourhood knew me, nodded and smiled a lot when passing by, acknowledging my work. Eventually someone bought the closed store to open a market and I never got to play there anymore.
Nowadays, if I had to pick a favourite location, it would be Arpoador because of the breathtaking view of the beach and the sun setting behind the Dois Irmãos mountains. Many people go there, including tourists, so it’s also good money-wise.
What are some of your most memorable moments as a busker?
There was this time I was taking a break and a homeless woman grabbed my guitar and started shouting some incomprehensible lyrics to the senseless rhythm of her strumming on the open strings. I didn’t fear for my instrument as she seemed to be holding it firmly, in spite of her weak appearance. She attracted all sorts of frightened looks from the people passing by, but she wasn’t doing any harm.
I was really in need of a break at the moment and I understood her catharsis so I just let her go on. After some time I asked politely for my guitar back, saying I needed to get back to work, and started playing again. She just stood there with a weird look and I didn’t have a clue whether she was liking the music or not. Suddenly she ran into the nearest store, where she got herself hurled out by security a moment later. After nearly falling to the ground, she stared at me, threw something into my guitar case and ran off.
Startled, I finished my song and looked at the case. It was a candy. She had “robbed” it from the store (one of those free candies given to customers) just to be able to give me something in exchange for my music. Or for letting her play my guitar, I’ll never know.
Another time, there was a man that passed by me a lot with his little girl, probably on their way to and from her school. She was around 6 years old and (for a couple of years) would love to hear me play and danced to my music every time they passed by. At the time, I got hired for a theatre play and was away from town and the streets most of the time for nearly a year. Then I came back and started busking regularly again and one day they encountered me once more. The father obviously remembered me and stopped walking so she could hear my playing and dance to my music again, but she didn’t. He looked at me sadly and they went on their way. Guess I’ll never know if she was just sad that day, or if she felt she was too grown up now to dance in the middle of the sidewalk.
How do you sum up the allure of Flamenco guitar?
I believe it’s allure resides in its intensity and strength and in the unique right hand techniques that perfectly express them. Its rhythms and melodies, enchantingly awkward and yet exotic, hold a secret mystery to it.
If you could choose a song that sums up life for you what would that song be?
Difficult to sum it all up in just one song! Maybe Camaron De La Isla’s Viviré: “Viviré, mientras que el alma me suene. Aquí estoy para morir cuando me llegue.” – “I’ll live while my soul still sings. Here I am, to die when my time comes.”
It’s much more poetic in Spanish… sounds somewhat depressing in English, but it’s not that. It means to live intensely through music and meet our fate with pride.
What’s some great advice you’ve received in your lifetime?
To believe in your dreams, to work hard, but let the universe take care of the rest and to know that this too shall pass.
What music do you listen to yourself?
All sorts! Besides flamenco, I’m also a metal-head but love folk music and fingerstyle guitar. Classical music is also a must for me.
How have you occupied yourself during these very tough Coronavirus months?
With work and music, fortunately! Recorded a paid online show, and composed the music for a suspense/terror short film and two theatre plays. I also featured in another artist’s song and videoclip (Udi Fagundes) and played on his internet live show. Giving online lessons, composing, playing for social media lives, and a series of home-made videos as live sessions for my YouTube channel.
What do you think we’ve learned from this pandemic?
I think we’ve learned the value of human physical presence, as well as the value, possibilities and limitations of the internet and technology. As artists we have to be constantly creative and the pandemic has been a tough challenge. But also an opportunity to grow and to learn from it.
What’s next for Pablo Vares?
An online show on YouTube… Waiting for the short film to finish editing and post-production.
Hopefully my first album, which is one of my greatest dreams I have yet to accomplish.
“I’m part of the Busk in London scheme, meaning I have a license to busk in the train stations around London, but more regularly I go to Kingston Upon Thames to busk in the marketplace. It’s a wonderful space with street food stalls, shops and lots of people willing to stop and listen on a weekend.
There’s always the opportunities I get from busking. London is such a vibrant and creative city, and you never know when the right person is going to walk past and give you an incredible opportunity!”
At just 16 years of age, Josephine Shaw’s classically trained vocals are not what you would expect to encounter as you rush to London’s Waterloo Station or stroll the pavements of Kingston Upon Thames. But hear them you will, if you are lucky enough.
This young singer has a vocal maturity way beyond her years. Born in Chicago, USA, Josephine’s American parents moved to the UK when she was only three. She says her accent is Mid-Atlantic – “a strange mix of American and British that I’ve picked up from my parents.”
We invited Josephine to Busker What’s Your Story? so you could hear her beautiful voice and we could find out a little more about her musical theatre aspirations and her busking experiences.
You have an incredible voice. What drew you to musical theatre and singing?
I feel like I’ve always had a love for singing. I was that weird kid making constant strange noises or humming to myself, much to the annoyance of my family! When I was around eight or nine I started taking lessons, which made me realise how much I loved to express myself through performance.
I saw my first musical, Wicked, for my eighth birthday, and was obsessed! I listened to the soundtrack on repeat, and I loved how musicals expertly combine acting, singing and dance, and that such uplifting, moving and fantastical stories can be told through this wonderful art form.
Do you play an instrument?
I play piano, but when I busk I tend to use backing tracks to get that orchestral sound that fits really well with classical music. When I recorded my EP, titled ‘Nightingale’, Ben Robbins, the producer of the album, provided me with some really high quality backing tracks for some of my songs, that I now use when busking. They’re beautiful, and it really enhances the experience.
Do you write your own material?
I currently don’t, but I would love to.
Being a classical singer, most repertoire performed is already written unless you are a composer, and with musicals, most songs that I sing are from, well, musicals!
When I was in LA for the first time over the summer, I met up with musician and songwriter Justin James, he helped me write my first song, called ‘Pause’. It’s about taking time for yourself in such a busy, pressured and stressful world. It hasn’t been produced, but if you scroll back a little on my Instagram page to July, (or go to my IGTV), you can find it. It was such a great experience, and I feel like songwriting is a deeper way to express myself through music that I want to explore in the future.
Where do you busk and how many times a week would you busk?
I’m part of the Busk in London scheme, meaning I have a license to busk in the train stations around London, but more regularly I go to Kingston Upon Thames to busk in the marketplace. It’s a wonderful space with street food stalls, shops and lots of people willing to stop and listen on a weekend.
As I’m 16 and am still in school full-time, I busk once a week, generally on Saturdays and Sundays when the market is busiest at lunch. However if it’s during school holidays, you’ll find me busking a lot more often!
You’re not a ‘typical’ busker. Was it intimidating at first to sing on the streets?
I actually wasn’t that intimidated at first to go busking!
While I have a tendency to get nervous about small things in day to day life, performing is when I feel most at home and true to myself.
I feel like I was very encouraged by seeing other buskers performing, especially in Kingston, which is very close to my home. Not too long before I started busking, it felt like the streets were filling up with more and more buskers, and I was becoming more aware of them.
Christmas was on its way, and I felt inspired to try it out myself (singing Christmas carols and other songs to spread some Christmas joy). I did really well, and it was a very positive experience for me, so I’ve been doing it ever since.
What are some special moments so far from busking?
Something that’s very rewarding for me as a singer is to see the reaction I get from my audience when I busk. Music can be an incredibly powerful thing, and when someone tells me that my music moved them emotionally, it means a lot!
I also love when people tell me that they’ve started to enjoy classical music after listening to me sing. Classical-crossover is a genre I love, which combines classical music and other styles, and I really believe it has the capacity to reach a wider audience.
And there’s always the opportunities I get from busking. London is such a vibrant and creative city, and you never know when the right person is going to walk past and give you an incredible opportunity! Just from busking, I’ve been asked to sing for weddings, a yoga class featuring live music, and for the prestigious Coutts Bank on the Strand, London.
What is a favourite lyric from any song that means something to you?
One of my most popular songs is Nella Fantasia. It’s in Italian, and I absolutely love the meaning of the lyrics. One of the verses translates;
‘In my fantasy, I dream of a just world, where people live in peace and honesty. I dream of souls who are always free, that soar like clouds, full of humanity, in the depths of the soul.’
In this time we are constantly hearing news of wars, grief, unjustness and suffering. Yet this song encourages listeners to hope and act for a better world, to dream about how the world could be. I hope that people take some steps themselves, however small, to move forward despite the worldly struggles we encounter and get a bit closer to that dream.
What’s a great piece of advice you’ve received in your young life so far?
Something that has been very significant for me as of late is working on my self confidence, especially when interacting with other people in the music industry.
I feel my most confident when I perform, but when I’m talking to others I find myself diminishing my own achievements, in fear of sounding cocky or unrealistic.
My parents have been so wonderful in supporting my dream to have a music career, and they’ve really encouraged me to be confident in myself and clear in my communication with others.
Something that is also vital to remember is to be kind. Kindness goes a long way, and being confident in yourself doesn’t mean you’re putting others down! The music industry can be very competitive and sometimes even toxic, and it’s important to remember to support other musicians to help create the positive community we know the music industry should be. And when you’re confident in yourself and have a network of other lovely musicians who support you, it’s easier to face the risk of rejection from auditions, and maintain a healthy attitude to keep following your dreams even when it gets difficult.
You have such a mature voice for 16. Have you auditioned for stage shows yet?
Thank you! Yes, I’m currently 16 so it’s sometimes a struggle to balance all my school work as well as my music career at the same time, but I’ve managed to stay on top of it so far!
When I was younger I auditioned for the child roles in musicals, like Matilda, Young Cosette or Young Fiona from Shrek the Musical, but now I’m 16, I’m at that phase where I’m too old for child parts, but too young to be hired for adult roles.
I’m currently looking for an agent, so by the time I’m 18 I can audition for musicals. I am also passionate about being a solo artist, which means that while I can’t audition yet, I can work on producing another classical-crossover album, and getting more performance opportunities as a solo artist. I would love to open for another classical-crossover musician on a tour.
What’s next for Josephine Shaw? Will you busk for us here in Australia one day?
In the next few years I’m planning to get another album out, and by then hopefully I’ll have a bigger following of people who are invested in listening to the music I have to share.
It’s a dream of mine to be signed with a record label to help produce that album, and by the time I’m 18, I want to be signed with an agent for Film, TV and Theatre, and auditioning for musicals too.
I’m considering taking a gap year after I finish my A-Levels (More British exams taken across the country to get into university), so that I can dedicate time to developing my career and making connections – I’m even hoping to live in LA for a few months.
I’ve never been to Australia before, but I would absolutely love to go. Being a fan of Opera, Sydney Opera House is a must-see for me, and I have some friends who have moved over there that I need to visit. I would love to busk over there if I ever get the chance, and a gap year would be the perfect opportunity to try!
“I love when I’m playing and passers-by are rushing, all busy and occupied and then they stop and give me a look, almost as if to say ‘thanks for making me stop and smile’. That’s my favourite part, when people walk past with a skip in their step and it feels like I’ve positively impacted their day.”
Steph is a 19 year old Melbourne born multi-instrumentalist. She released her first E.P. titled ‘Allegoric Oceans‘ in 2017 and is a regular busker at the Marketplace in Camberwell.
With influences from the John Butler Trio, Tash Sultana and Ziggy Alberts, Steph’s genre contains bursts of percussion alongside fingerstyle and indie rock.
At Busker What’s Your Story? we wanted to find out more about this young and talented independent acoustic artist.
What drew you to music as a child?
I grew up in Melbourne, surrounded by lots of family, friends and sport. Some of my earliest memories of music include driving in the car with my Dad, listening to Elvis Presley on repeat, watching my cousins jam together and going to see Ed Sheeran at my first concert when I was 14 years old.
What drew me to music was the support from my Dad and two of my cousins. They taught me a large handful of songs and showed me how much fun it was to jam and explore different sounds.
As a young person I listened to Coldplay, Ed Sheeran and The Red Hot Chili Peppers.
What do you enjoy most about busking?
One of the best things about busking is meeting the locals and feeling a sense of community. I love when I’m playing and passers-by are rushing, all busy and occupied and then they stop and give me a look, almost as if to say ‘thanks for making me stop and smile’. That’s my favourite part; when people walk past with a skip in their step and it feels like I’ve positively impacted their day. It’s a pretty special feeling.
What do you like least about it?
There’s not too much not to like about busking, however when I finish a full day of performing and my fingers are red and raw, I guess that’s pretty annoying (yet oddly satisfying).
What are some standout moments you’ve had busking?
I’ve had plenty of funny situations. One man missed his doctor’s appointment because he listened to me for so long. Another time, a woman gave me $10 and thanked me for not playing any Christmas Carols!
If you could choose a lyric from any song that’s really special to you, what would it be, and why?
The song ‘Time Is Dancing’ by Ben Howard is personally one of the best lyrical songs of all time, but ‘Red Moon’ by Michael Dunstan has my favourite lyric: ‘Comforting memories of summer rain on wheat. Soothing rustle of the pines in the easterlies. Open spaces, that let me breath.’
Do you think buskers will survive an increasingly cashless society?
It’s something that I’ve been concerned about recently, but I think with our ever-growing technology, there’ll be ways for people to gift performers for their art. London’s recently introduced card readers for buskers so that people can tap their card and give money; I think that idea will go global soon enough.
What’s a great piece of advice you’ve been given?
One of the best pieces of advice I’ve heard in relation to music is: ‘Don’t let music become a chore, it should always be a release.’ I’ve followed that, ever since I heard it.
Where can people see you busk or gig?
I busk at the Market Place in Camberwell in Melbourne and I do gigs around Fitzroy at local pubs and bars.
The idea for this project came about after a recent trip to Spain & Portugal. Though I didn’t interview the buskers there, the short grabs of their performance attracted great social engagement and I’ve included them in this blog.
As a writer and a music lover, writing the stories of ordinary folk is my jam. I thought, why not interview these talented everday folk and share a little piece of their story?
So here you’ll find just a slice of the lives of as many authentic, amazing, quirky, weird and wonderful musicians and street performers as I can discover.
I hope you’ll come along on this journey and share their stories and their talent with your social networks.
As we stumble upon them perched on street corners, hidden in subway tunnels, popping up in city riverside precincts or tucked under tents in country markets – let’s find out – Busker What’s Your Story?
“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.”
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:
“We meet so many people who don’t have time to listen to our music, but then they end up sitting through a 2 hour busking set. Often we end up having more than 100 people standing and listening to us playing and it gives us goosebumps to think that so many cared. Sometimes someone decides to dance to our songs and other times we get people to sing along. So we have a lot of memorable moments from this life.”
Sarah Johansen & Patrick Thomsen
Sarah Johansen and Patrick Thomsen are a duo called ‘Life of a Busker’.
Patrick, 24, grew up in the Denmark countryside close to the little town of Brenderup on the island Fyn. “Music was always around me, as my father played guitar and sang. I started playing and singing when I was 14 and then eventually joined my dad’s band when I was good enough,” he said. “Music was only ever a hobby, until I met Sarah and we found a way to make music a full time job.”
Sarah, 22, grew up in a small town in Denmark called Almind at Jytland. “Opposite Patrick, I didn’t grow up in a musical family, but my dad always listened to a lot of music. I’ve been singing in a church choir for nearly 10 years and then taught myself to play guitar, and that’s where my interest for music really started. Later, I learned to play piano and that became my preferred instrument.”
The young couple who love the travelling lifestyle came up with the idea to busk their way around the world and record their journey on Instagram and Facebook. They began their adventure in January of 2018, travelling across 20 states in the USA in their camper van and entertaining the masses with their formidable musical talents.
They have since busked extensively through Europe and the U.K. including Italy, Switzerland, Germany, The Nederlands, Denmark, Spain, Portugal, England and France, before Coronavirus cut their world tour short in Bali in early March.
The couple have returned home to Denmark. Busker What’s Your Story? caught up with ‘Life of a Busker’ during their busking hiatus, to find out a little more about this delightful duo.
Who are your musical influences and why?
We have both been inspired by a lot of different artists, both before and after we met each other. Patrick has always liked Ed Sheeran, John Mayer and Sarah has a soft spot for Adele, Halsey and Billie Eilish. But we also have artists we are equally inspired by, like Jason Mraz because of his vibe and incredible writing skills, Lewis Capaldi for his awe-inspiring voice.
What are some really memorable moments from busking?
A lot of stuff has happened the last two years and our contact book has seemed to fill up a great amount.
We have met a lot of buskers from a Swedish street magician in Portugal to a group of international buskers in Madrid. We even made a friend in the city of Aarhus where we lived who was willing to help us with our home page, YouTube etc.
We meet so many people who don’t have time to listen to our music, but then they end up sitting through a 2 hour busking set. Often we end up having more than 100 people standing and listening to us playing and it gives us goosebumps to think that so many cared. Sometimes someone decides to dance to our songs and other times we get people to sing along. So we have a lot of memorable moments from this life.
Any funny stories?
When we lived in Madrid a short while ago our tenant from Columbia told us his cousin and her husband were going to visit him, apparently they knew of us and wanted to meet us. We have a pretty decent Instagram account and a lot of people have seen us, but we have never considered ourselves famous in any way, so of course we didn’t believe that two middle-aged people from the other side of the world were our fans!
But suddenly our tenant called out of the blue and said they were outside our apartment and (rather unprepared) we invited these 3 people in, who didn’t speak a word of English. It wasn’t until the cousin came running up the stairs with her phone in hand, ready to take a picture and hug the hell out of us, that we realised they were in fact true fans and so were their daughters.
So we wrote a message to their daughters in a book, gave them an autograph and played a song for them. The cousin ended up crying and went on to invite us to Columbia. A pretty weird and very cool experience.
On your website on your ‘Advice for buskers’ page, you say you have learned what songs to play, and what not to play – can you give some examples?
There are songs that work better in the sense that they connect with more people. Like if a song is extremely popular, or if people have a special feeling towards a song. The songs that work for us are: ‘Perfect’ by Ed Sheeran, ‘Hallelujah’ by Leonard Cohen, ‘Shallow’ by Lady Gaga, ‘Someone like you’ by Adele and ‘I’m Yours’ by Jason Mraz.
Buskers play a lot of songs which are ‘timeless’. Do you think popular music of today will still be played in 30 years time or have we lost the art of timeless music?
Of course! At the current moment we can’t decide what will be timeless in 30 years, but there will always be new songs we will refer back to. People are already considering Backstreet Boys as timeless, next will probably be Justin Timberlake, Beyonce, Ed Sheeran and so on. ‘Timeless’ is a concept that will forever be evolving, we just need to accept that classics are already in the making.
Do you have many arguments travelling the world together and spending so much time together performing?
We do have ‘discussions’ from time to time, because we are together more than the average couple and we are so extremely passionate about our music.
It’s taken us a long time to really learn who we are as a couple, but also as colleagues and we still have a lot to learn. There will always be something we need to discuss or talk about. but we are always willing to listen to each other and find solutions, because at the end of the day, we love what we do and we love each other.
If you could choose a lyric from any song that sums up life for you, what would that lyric be?
Sarah – “We don’t need the map, we’ll just drive, drive, drive” – Jason Mraz, Lets see what the night can do. Patrick – “May the road less paved be the one that you follow” by Jason Mraz, Have It All.
The elephant in everyone’s room at the moment – Coronavirus. How badly has your home nation of Denmark been effected?
It is a weird situation. We were called back to Denmark from Bali, before it really took off.
Our country has taken great precautions and acted swiftly to make sure the spread doesn’t get any further. Even our Queen spoke up about the importance of staying inside and washing your hands frequently.
Now we are all waiting and we have had to stay at Patrick’s parent’s home to see what will happen. It means busking is not something we can do for the foreseeable future, but it means we get a lot more time to write songs and be creative.
Denmark is also a great country to live in, because there is so much help from the government so no-one will get fired or go broke in these challenging times. We are extremely hopeful and are quite happy to see how all of mankind seems to come together in getting through this. So, it’s not all bad.
Have you busked in Australia?
We have never busked in Australia, but it was definitely on our list. We even bought flight tickets to go there after Bali. So Australia wasn’t just on the list, it was next on the list! Now we will have to wait for the future. Hopefully we will get there soon.
We hope you do Sarah & Patrick!
In the meantime you can check out more from this fab duo ‘Life as a Busker’ on their socials:
“I remember one of the first things that really shocked me. There was a man listening to me. He looked like he was homeless, maybe an addict, and he was staring at me, which made me feel really uncomfortable. He looked very angry. As I finished playing ‘Sound of Silence,’ he was getting closer and closer, so I got very tense and started to keep an eye on my money. He extended his arm and opened his hand. I saw a 5-euro note fall over my coins and I heard: that is the most beautiful song I’ve ever heard, thank you. I thanked him, still in a bit of a shock, and suddenly felt as guilty as hell. Don’t judge a book by its cover is a saying I thought I understood before this happened.”
Andrés S. Macnamara
Our interview with the incredible Andrés S. Macnamara came during these new unprecedented times of the Coronavirus which is having a devastating effect on the live music and entertainment industry. In all the doom and gloom however, while (some) Americans are lining up to purchase guns, musicians and civilians in lockdown in countries such as Spain and Italy are singing and playing music from their balconies, spreading messages of support and hope.
That’s where we found Andrés this week.
Born in Zaragoza, the Capital of the Aragón region in the northeast of Spain, 31 year old Andrés has a Degree in Veterinary Medicine as well as a Music Degree. “I decided to go for music, as I think I’m better at it and also enjoy it more. Then I moved to Tenerife and after that to Dublin where I began busking,” he said.
“Last October, I came back to Spain to try busking over here, although lately I’m busking from my balcony due to the Coronavirus situation.”
What drew you to music?
I was born to a Spanish father and an Irish mother. Both my parents are very musical. My father plays guitar and sings, but basically he’ll make any instrument (or object) sound great. He’s a huge musical influence for me. My sister is the most talented guitar player I know. I’ve basically been listening to great music since I remember.
Do you write your own material?
Songwriting has always been a fight against myself. I love it and I hate it. For the moment I don’t have any songs released (as a solo artist) but I will be releasing my first album this year. I’m extremely excited about it but it’s also very scary as I have a lot of hope (maybe too much!) that some people will enjoy what I do.
I try to write down musical ideas that I like and that I find interesting. Then, I try to write lyrics that suit the music and that reflect either personal experiences, or invented stories. I don’t like lyrics that complain or that get too whinny. I prefer stories and music and lyrics that create a mental image for the listener.
What can you share with us about your busking experiences?
Busking was one of the best things I ever did. It changed my life. I had been playing with bands for over ten years, but was never confident enough to be the frontman. I decided to start busking in Dublin and that really boosted my confidence. I saw that people actually enjoyed my performance and I was complimented for my way of singing.
It can be very scary to go out to the street and break the silence with your voice, but in the end you realise that people in general are great and usually have nice words for you.
There are many memorable moments. I remember one of the first things that really shocked me: there was a man listening to me. He looked like he was homeless, maybe an addict, and he was staring at me, which made me feel really uncomfortable. He looked very angry. As I finished playing “Sound of silence,” he was getting closer and closer so I got very tense and started to keep an eye on my money. He extended his arm and opened his hand. I saw a 5-euro note fall over my coins and I heard: that is the most beautiful song I’ve ever heard, thank you. I thanked him, still in a bit of shock, and suddenly felt as guilty as hell. Don’t judge a book by its cover is a saying I thought I understood before this happened.
Mostly I have good memories when I think of busking but, of course, people rob you, sometimes spit at you, shout at you or fall over your equipment but hey! You’re in the street, what do you expect?
What’s a great piece of advice you’ve been given, and who gave it to you?
My dad always says: ‘la vida es jugar,’ which means life is playing, not playing an instrument or music necessarily, but just playing, making things enjoyable. Now he’s retired. He used to be an English teacher in high school and he always said: The most important thing is that you have fun, and then the students will have fun and therefore learn. I think this is the most important thing to keep in mind, no matter what you do.
What advice would you give a young person starting out busking?
I would say just do it.
Nothing of what you think will happen, will actually happen. Many things you’d never even think could happen, will happen, and that’s a good thing. It really helped me feel alive. Also, don’t think about the money, some days it will be good, others terrible, and although it does partly depend on what you do and your attitude, most of it is random. Just do your thing and try to get better every day.
If you could choose a lyric that sums up life for you, what would it be?
Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans. It’s from a John Lennon song called ‘Beautiful Boy, Darling Boy.’
It had to be a Lennon song. I’m a Beatle-head. Although they aren’t especially strong for their lyrics, I think this one (although it’s a Lennon song) really means a lot to me. It’s a beautiful and colourful way of saying carpe diem.
Buskers often sing material that is ‘timeless’ (The Beatles is a great example). Do you think music from quality artists of today (Ed Sheeran for example) will be sung in 30 years time or will today’s music just come and go?
I love this question! It’s a conversation I frequently have with my friends. What songs will be Hey Jude for us when we are 50 or 60? Sometimes I feel like there’s nothing like it. I mean, Ed Sheeran is really good, but I can’t see people playing Thinking out loud in 30 years, or playing Beyoncé songs. But that’s just my opinion and my taste.
On a brighter side, I do believe last year a new artist emerged that will definitely achieve the timeless tag and that’s Billie Eilish, now that’s good damn music!
What’s next for Andrés S. Macnamara?
Next is a European busking tour this summer (of course that’s if the Pandemic situation improves) and an album release, and later? Just playing!
At Busker What’s Your Story? we’ll be sure to connect with Andrés again when he releases his original EP later this year.
You can find out more about this talented artist here:
“Some days you feel a bit pathetic. People look at you like ‘oh there’s that silly girl again, trying to get some coins,’ but the thing is, I never play for the money. Sometimes I even give my money away to homeless people, or I just buy some food with it and share it.
One time, I also had a really weird experience with a man who wanted to jump off a bridge and he was crying. He was a homeless guy, in trouble, he just felt no meaning in his life any more. I was singing happy songs at that moment, and I felt really good, like I could help him! So I think I sort of stopped him from jumping. It was quite intense, he was a bit confused afterwards and I helped him find his way to the train station. I gave him some money and left him on his way. Yeah, I guess those kind of people always come to me, because I’m just nice to everybody and they feel seen.”
Lotte Walda is the golden haired girl with a golden heart.
Born in Heerlen, Limburg in the south of the Netherlands, this alternative pop/folk artist is an established singer/songwriter who says she wants to show her love for people and nature through her music. Well known as a busker, Walda says she will continue to share her songs as a street performer, no matter how far her music career takes her.
Walda says she knew from as young as 3 years old that she wanted to sing. When she learned to write, she began to create poems which she says is a passion that has continued throughout her life.
“When I turned 15, I participated in a contest where I needed to write an original song. That’s when I started writing songs, and I totally adore it,” she said. “It’s so beautiful to have the ability to write something to inspire other people. Actually, after that contest, everything started flowing and I just knew that music was my path. But I think I always knew that.”
Walda has busked all over the world, including Portugal, Greece, America and China. “I travel a lot, just everywhere I go, I do some busking.”
We invited Lotte to the blog so we could share her awesome music and you could read a little of her story.
How long have you been busking?
I started busking in the city where I grew up, Heerlen. I was 15 years old and scared! It was super scary to just stand there on the street and start singing. But I’m so glad I made the decision to do it. It was a new world for me! After busking for the first time, I started doing it every week. The older I became, the more I busked in other places as well. I often go to Maastricht to sing on the Old Bridge, I also wrote a song about that, which will be out on the 24th of April.
Tell us why you love it so much
I just totally love busking because of the fact that everything that happens is spontaneous.
You have more one-to-one contact with people. Plus everybody gets to choose if they want to listen and stand still, or not. So I think when people listen, they really want to. It’s a beautiful thing.
I’ve experienced many ”blissful” moments when I’m busking. I love it when a little kid, who is at first scared to come to me, is later dancing to my music, those little things are so wonderful. It really makes me feel alive! No matter how far I go with my music, I will keep on doing this. It’s just such a different feeling to standing on a stage (which is also really nice) because with busking, you are not asked to play there. So it’s totally fresh for the people every time.
In a way, you have to open yourself completely, which is still quite scary sometimes. But then when you do, and play a few songs, you feel, ‘yeah this is the day’ and then you’re just totally flowing. Laughing.
When you come to that state of happiness, people feel the happiness, and beautiful things can happen!
Are there bad things you’ve experienced?
Yeah. Of course, bad things always happen sometimes.
You have days where you just feel a little bit pathetic, people look at you like: ‘ah there’s that silly girl again, trying to get some coins’. You just feel it sometimes. But the thing is, I never play for money. Sometimes I even give my money away to homeless people or I just buy some food and share it. So I don’t mind when I don’t get a lot of money, but it’s just that you feel the opinion of other people sometimes, and on those days sometimes I can’t find my flow. On those days, I’ll just decide to stop and play some music somewhere else.
One time, I also had a really weird experience with a man who wanted to jump off a bridge and he was crying. He was a homeless guy, in trouble, he just felt no meaning in his life any more. I was singing happy songs at that moment, and I felt really good, like I could help him! So I think I sort of stopped him from jumping. It was quite intense, after that moment he was a bit confused and I helped him find his way to the train station. I gave him some money and left him on his way. Yeah, I guess those kind of people always come to me because I’m just nice to everybody and they feel seen.
If you could change something you’ve seen on the streets, what would it be?
Damn, many things!
Of course you see many homeless people which is a shame. I wish everybody would just have a place to go to and enough food to eat.
Then there’s also the rich people with their shopping bags. Sometimes it’s quite heavy to see how much money they spend, while others don’t have anything. Plus the world is suffering and we should all do something about that, instead of buying more and more things.
So yeah, I wish people would be more aware of this planet, share more, recycle more, go to vintage stores more. Instead of buying new and new and new items all the time. Plus sooo many plastic bags! Please bring your own bags people.
Do you think busking can survive an increasingly cashless society?
Hmm, good question. Well actually, I don’t do it for the money, so I don’t care. We’ll see. If there would be no cash money any more, I would keep on playing and then I guess people would just feed me. Buy me food or something, that’s always nice. I’ve had that many times, especially in the winter. People bring me hot chocolate milk or something, it’s so sweet. It’s the feeling people give you, not the cash.
You write your own material – choosing a couple of your favourites, what can you tell me about them?
I like my song ‘Let it flow’. It brings me in a flow, which is a nice thing. It’s a happy, uplifting song about letting it all just come to you! It’s also about a little girl who’s not daring to do what she loves in this society because she’s afraid she might fail. So she’s unhappy. And I sing to her that everything will work out fine, if you just choose to follow your heart.
Another song of mine is called ‘The old bridge’ which is particulary about playing on the street, on the bridge of Maastricht. I describe the feeling of busking in that song and I am really excited because it’s not out yet. I wrote this song in Nashville with Suzy Brown and I really love the simplicity of playing on this bridge, and this same simplicity is also in the lyrics. (We’ll be sure to share Lotte’s release on Busker What’s Your Story?)
I also wrote a song called ”Barefoot” which is about walking barefoot. I love walking barefoot! In the summer, I do it all the time. I often play this song when I’m busking in the summer, it gives people a summery vibe and it’s just a really happy song.
What’s next for Lotte Walda? Will you busk for us in Australia one day?
Yeah sure! I will go many places with my music and I am deeply trusting my musical path.
Some days I feel worried, some days I feel it’s all not going fast enough. But when I look at the bigger picure, I can see what I’ve experienced already. I feel so grateful. I just know that my path will take me to many more beautiful places where I can share my voice with everyone who’s willing to listen.
Right now I’m working on my second album and I’ve made a plan with my agent/management, so hopefully these people can help me with my career.
No matter how big I become, I will never stop busking. Because I just love it. It gives me freedom and I love freedom. On the other hand, it also gives me a sort of certainty. Because I can always choose to travel where ever, open my guitar case and start singing. Oh what a beautiful thought!
“It’s awesome, when a crowd gathers at the exact time as your jam starts to cook and a lot of coin goes in the hat, but the nature of what I, and my boys, The Swift Brothers, do is up and down like life. It’s a matter of enjoying the process. Jam, find a flow, dance for yourself first and let the audience choose to come to that (or not). But when they do, hit them with the good stuff.”
He’s been a state champion boxer, a male stripper, a street performer and an acclaimed tap dancer. Melbourne’s Grant Swift is a really cool guy, with a really cool story.
The son of a boxing pro, Swift spent his young years observing the rhythmic beat of his dad’s skipping rope tapping on the wooden verandah of their home in New Zealand. He said his father would then disappear into the fog on a run. “It was very romantic to me as a kid, I always wanted to follow in his footsteps. If your Dad’s a brickie, you’re going to lay bricks.” So Swift became a fighter, and though he was a natural, he says he was a lazy trainer who got by on talent, without his heart truly in it.
Even now, there’s a very sweet authenticity in Swift’s demeanour. A genuine naivity from a man who is (you would assume) anything but naive.
In the early eighties, at 17 years of age, Swift left New Zealand for Australia, looking for a boxing trainer. A sliding doors moment with a guy sweeping the floor in a bar in Northern Queensland somehow led to an offer to be a part of Australia’s first ‘Ladies Nights’ (something brand new in America, which the floor sweeper was bringing to Australia). Within a month, Swift found himself performing as a dancer and male entertainer in a show called ‘Hollywood Heroes.’ He played the character of James Bond.
Swift performed for around a year in Australia before returning to New Zealand and starting his own ‘Ladies Nights’ there. He says he knew stripping was a young man’s game and though a lot of fun, it wasn’t the ‘thing’ he was really looking for.
At 21, another fateful meeting with a kitchen-hand in Sydney introduced him to that ‘thing.’ “This lady was a tapper, she showed me some flaps and a time-step and I picked it up pretty much on the spot and then she went out for the night,” said Swift. When she came back, he had taught himself 32 bars of what she’d shown him. The seed was planted.
Next, Swift met a young tapper who showed him a video of ‘The Nicholas Brothers.’ He recalled watching the African American tappers on black and white tv as a very young child with his father. “What’s that Dad? How are they doing that?” he had asked, fascinated by the art form. He says his Dad, a typical London cockney replied: “Well, it’s trick photography, i’nit Son.”
Swift practiced his new passion for around eight hours a day in Australia. He spent a year busking on the street and then bought a ticket to America in 1990. His plan was to go to New York.
In a transit lounge in L.A., another chance meeting sealed his fate. Talking his way through customs with an ineligible ticket, he said: “I want to come in, I’m a tap dancer, I really need to get in here and learn, because this is where tap’s from, and where I’m from, there’s nothin!” Curious, the customs officer peered into his backpack and realised he had next to no luggage. “Well, first of all, you don’t want to go to New York, you want to go to New Orleans!” That sliding door slid wide open once more. Swift was in.
He spent a couple of nights in a hostel in L.A. where he found himself, a 22 year old white kid from New Zealand, busking on the street along Venice Beach.
Swift landed in New Orleans with $20 in his pocket and a thirst to tap. To really tap. “I hit Bourbon Street and that was it. I was there for a month and slept in Jackson Square with the locals and tapped on the streets. I got arrested twice, the coppers were horrible then, they didn’t like black and white together at all. That was the South.”
Swift met an old local cat called ‘Uncle Willy’ who observed the ‘spirit’ in Grant’s dancing and introduced him to a few more cats in New Orleans. He soaked up the invaluable gifts of their art. “It was only a short time, but it was prettty deep there,” Swift says.
Living in London for the next three years, Swift tapped on the street with his young daughter Calisha, together they paid the rent. He returned to Melbourne and set up a tap school in St Kilda where he later brought dancers to Australia from all over the World.
Were there many other tappers busking on the street when you started out?
When I started busking by coincidence there was another guy starting out and busking too, his name was Locky. We were both pretty basic with our technique. Locky was a great spirit, always looked happy, he danced from the waist down mostly, he didn’t move his body around much, it was all legs and feet and he used to jump up on the chairs in Bourke Street mall and dance on them.
My Style was a bit more athletic. I did flips and split drops and used a few dance moves, the flips and splits used to hurt by the end of the day, but it filled the hat, so I kept doing it.
A few times Locky and I teamed up and shared a hat.
Where do you busk in Melbourne today?
My sons and I have only been busking in St Kilda lately because we have an arrangement with the Acland Village and it’s convenient living locally. We still like to dance in the Bourke St Mall or along Swanston St. I love the buzz of the city (we haven’t been into the city for over a year though probably). I’m teaching quite a bit lately.
So here you are, a 22 y.o. white kid in L.A. and you think: “I might go busk on Venice Beach today.” Tell me about that – it must have been such a buzz, but scary too?
Was I scared ? I suppose nervous is more the word. I always get nervous, about everything, (there’s that sweet authenticity again), but I’ve grown to embrace and enjoy the emotion over the years. There was some amazing acts along the strip and I remember feeling the big difference in the level of intensity of everything, the buskers, the crowds, the locals, everything was more intense.
Looking back, I think I just had a whole lot of energy and curiousity and belief in Tap dancing as being my destiny. So I just danced and usually I’d be so into it, I would be too tired to be worried. I was too busy trying to keep time and stay on my feet.
The key to tap, apart from having natural rhythm, seems to be to make it look effortless – would you agree? How do you do that?
Making it look easy is definitely a good thing. With tap dancing, it’s good to also be able to communicate to the audience that what you’re doing is hard, then do it with flair and personality.
One of the classic lines I heard, I think came from the great Bill Bojangles Robinson. He would go into a time step and tell the audience: ‘Here’s one I sat up all night trying to get.’ Then he would do a really cool step. I think Tap is like a lot of art forms, it ain’t what you do it’s the way that you do it (great song that).
So to answer your question how do you make it look it easy? It’s just practice, just like watching someone who’s been making pizzas for years, they can flip the doh up in the air, spin it etc with ease, but it took a lot of practice. I still practice, always will, I love it.
Tell me about your kids – they are amazing!
I’ve got four kids. Calisha, the oldest, is 30 now, Harry 24, Oscar 22 and Teisha 15. Yes they all tap, lol.
Calisha was an absolute gun when she was a kid and partnered me on the street and in jazz gigs, festival shows etc for years, but when she got into her later years of school and then into work she stopped tap dancing. It’s been a while since she had her shoes on, but she is very gifted. She’s getting married in April.
My sons Harry and Oscar have danced all their lives and continue to enjoy it and make a modest living. So I’m happy because it keeps them fit and it keeps us close.
My youngest daughter, Teisha, is also a good dancer with great timing and groove. She’s been gifted with a good singing voice, so she has fallen in love with singing and her tap dancing is taking a back seat for now. I hope she gets back into it, but it’s up to her.
You asked do I think do you have to be natural or can you be taught?. It’s a hard question to answer. I do believe though if you have passion, dedication and work hard, you can be good, and even great, at anything. A natural gift only gives you an advantage at the start, it’s just a head start.
What is the most difficult thing about tap dancing?
The most difficult thing about tap dancing is making a living! It’s an art form that takes years to become fluent in, to have good flow and a style that you can adapt to different tempos and styles of music, knowing when to improvise and when to pull out a move.
Are there other tappers busking still?
I don’t know of any other tappers regularly working the street in Melbourne these days. Over the years, quite a few of my students have gone out and done time on the street. I’ve always encouraged it and try to take the kid tap dance students out at least once a year to work the hat.
It’s great to see their little faces light up when they see money going in the hat and people applauding them for doing what they’ve been practicing in the studio.
What are your standout memories from performing or busking?
The greatest moment for me was meeting my hero, Gregory Hines, in New York, then dancing while he was in the audience and him coming up to me after, and being so happy with what he saw, it always lights me up remembering that.
Busking highlights have been just people coming up and saying I’ve made their day, really cheered them up, I find that really rewarding. A few times $100 notes have gone in the hat, which is always a financial buzz.
Do you still feel joy dancing, even when the audience may not be showing their appreciation in your hat?
I do still enjoy the street, even if there’s no money going in the hat or people stopping. I’ve been doing it long enough to know the appreciation doesn’t always have to be right in front of you. I’ve had people come up and give me money and say “I’ve been watching you all year from my office window and really enjoyed you.”
Sometimes you’ll catch the look in a kid’s eye who has suddenly become intrigued. A few of my students who have gone on to become successful tap dancers first saw tap as kids walking past me in Melbourne City and they asked their parents to stop and then they came to my school.
So yes, it’s awesome when a crowd gathers at the exact time as your jam starts to cook and a lot of coin goes in the hat, but the nature of what I, and my boys, The Swift Brothers, do, is up and down like life. It’s a matter of enjoying the process. Jam, find a flow, dance for yourself first and let the audience choose to come to that (or not). But when they do, hit them with the good stuff.
Would you have survived those early days without busking?
Before I became respected in the dance community, the street was my main income. I wouldn’t have survived without busking. I used to knock about with a few jazz musicians and pick up a few bucks performing in bars as well, but it was mainly the street. Over time, I started to become more known in the dance world and I was able to set up my own classes and now teaching is my main income and busking is more for the love of the dance.
What advice do you give a young person today who wants to try tapping on the streets?
My advice to young (or old) people is to just do it!
Practice on your tap board so you’re used to the size, face away from the mirrors in your studio, turn your music down low cos on the street your music is much quieter than when it’s blasting out of your studio stereo and definately if you can talk, don’t just dance. Say hello, thank you, etc. There’s nothing to lose and everything to gain. Believe in yourself. Dancing for people is a good thing to be doing.
If you could change something on the streets, what would it be?
The homeless, it’s become a lot more common now than when I started busking.
These days, we’re competing for patches with homeless people holding out a hat. I’ve always got on good with the homeless or people of the street and I’ll share a bit of my coin around.
I figure the street is a stage for me, but for some it is their home, where they sleep and dream. I hear there are some modern countries where there is no homelessness so it is possible…
If you could choose a song that sums up life for you, what would it be?
God made me Funky .. it’s a cool song by the Headhunters.
What’s next for Grant Swift and Rhythm Tap Melbourne?
I have no idea, it’s really just day to day. I just like to see people coming in, new faces, old friends.
I haven’t produced an event for a few years, like a festival, jazz or tap night or theatre show and I haven’t travelled for a while either.
Perhaps I’ll put a show together as I’m getting older, with a bit of history, maybe I could allow myself to make it personal, like a bit of a telling of my story.
Keeping fit, healthy and seeing my kids thrive is what drives me. Being able to enjoy tap dancing without being obsessed with hours of practice is a good place to be now. I’ve done the 12 hour and 8 hour practice years, now it’s all enjoyment. I practice for a couple of hours now and get what I need to be happy, it’s my therapy.
So that’s Grant Swift, a very humble guy, with a really cool story. If you want to watch further videos or find out more about Grant and his sons, The Swift Brothers, or if you want to learn to do what they do, visit their socials here:
“My inspirations are Freddie Mercury, Bob Dylan, The Beatles, Janis Joplin, Bob Marley, Tones and I and LP. I think I took a little bit from all of them to créate my own style, but I don’t even know which style that is!”
And now for something really different. GREX is a street performer from Madrid, Spain, whose Bob Marley locks and diminutive frame combine with her very cool vocals and zesty acoustics to create a vibe that’s something truly unique.
We invited GREX to the blog to find out more about this intriguing young artist.
How old are you and where did you grow up?
I’m 24. I was born in Argentina but I moved to Spain (Madrid) when I was 6 years old. So I grew up here in Madrid.
What interesting things can you tell me about yourself?
Music is my life, I started singing when I was like 8 years old, more or less, and I started to play the guitar at 10 and also began composing then.
I moved to London in 2016, where I discovered the Busker’s world and I’ve been living by the music and doing all music stuff since then. I write poetry too!
How long have you been busking?
I’ve been busking for 4 years. I started in London and I busked in more countries in Europe, but not outside of Europe or the U.K. yet.
Who are your musical inspirations and why?
I could say my inspirations are Freddie Mercury, Bob Dylan, The Beatles, Janis Joplin, Bob Marley, I also like Tones and I and LP.
For me, all of those, and all the 80’s and 90’s artists are an inspiration, I’ve been listening to all of them since I was like 3 years old.
I think I took a little bit from all of them to créate my own style, but I don’t even know which style that is!
What are some great moments you have had while busking?
Almost all of them. Getting to know new people, every day you can hear great things that the people say about your music, you see everybody enjoyng and dancing and almost every day at least one person comes up and says that you made their day. For me, that is really satisfying.
I also saw people crying while listening to my music, that makes me feel the best human ever.
To be honest, every moment is special for me, every day is different and at the same time, just as I make their day, they make mine.
Do you use an Eftpos Square? Do you think busking can survive an increasingly cashless world?
No I dont use one. I think of course we will survive, like everything in this world, we can adapt our busking kit, for example using an Eftpos Square or some other technology.
Picking one of your original songs, what can you tell me about the story behind your lyrics?
‘I don’t feel at home’ is my last song. It talks about the anxiety, when you feel that you are not part of this world anymore, even if you are with all the people who you love.
I think all of us feel that, at least once in our lives. That feeling that you only wanna stay in your bed the whole day, that is what ‘I don’t feel at home’ means, because when you are in that situation you can’t feel at home, anywhere.
If you could choose a lyric from any song, that’s special to you, what would it be?
I would pick ‘’La guitarra’’ – Los autenticos decandentes.
What’s a great piece of advice you’ve been given, or that you would give someone else?
Before starting to busk I asked one busker about it called Nik Davis, he is based in London, he told me to do it and I said to myself, ‘’why not?’’
So I did it.
If I have to give some advice I would say do it with passion, have fun, respect everybody and always take a risk and try!
What’s next for GREX?
For this year, 2020, I will start travelling, busking around Europe. I want to be known in more countries.
“You can tell when it’s cooking, when the vibe’s right. Other people look at it like a rubbish truck having convulsions coming up the street. If it makes people smile, I’m rapt!”
Popular urban street drummer Paul Guseli who performs as ‘Lousy with mines’ is a Melbourne institution.
Paul’s energised street performances are created with over 50 pieces of recycled waste – everything from pots, pans, bells, whistles, biscuit tins and plastic bottles provide the tools for his admirable percussion skills, attracting the attention of passers-by with his techno-inspired show.
It all began around five years ago when Guseli was working as a kitchen-hand in his brother’s Carlton restaurant. The sounds of a busy kitchen and the clattering of pots and pans were the inspiration behind what would become a musical institution on the streets of Melbourne’s CBD.
Guseli now operates as a full-time street performer and though he survives well on his takings, he’s certainly had some interesting deposits in his time – “people just scrape everything out of their pockets. I’ve had sim cards, a lot of lint, lacker bands, one earring, lighters, even a fingernail,” he told Corinna Hente of MOJO in 2018.
We filmed ‘Lousy with mines’ on a sunny Sunday afternoon in November on Melbourne’s Swanston Street. This high energy, focused performer did not stop for long enough for us to chat with him, but there was no denying the crazy talent of Paul Guseli.
“Dame Kelly Holmes (British Double Gold Medallist, middle distance athlete) told me to never give up on my dreams. I was 7 years old at the time and performing at an event she attended.
Busking has helped me to maintain eye contact. I am naturally very shy. It’s taken me years to put on an act really. If I act like I am confident, it helps me to actually become confident.”
Kiah Spurle is a 12 year old British national with a big voice. Drawn to singing at a very young age, Kiah would sing along with Andrea Boccelli on the TV and when she got a little older Adele became her favourite performer.
Kiah took up busking to build her confidence when performing and as a way to practice maintaining eye contact with her audience, something she felt she needed to develop as she is a shy young lady by nature.
We invited Kiah along to Busker What’s Your Story? to find out a little more.
How often and where abouts do you busk?
I go busking every two weeks in the Winter, and more in the Spring and Summer months. I mostly busk around London and the South of England.
What are your best moments from busking? Do you feel intimidated on the streets?
My most memorable moments busking are the amazing people that support me. People are genuinely really kind and want the best for me. Some stop and chat to me and my mum and it really means a lot to both of us. My Mum comes with me every time I busk, so I feel safe. I always have the support of adults and friends around me.
Is there anything you don’t like about busking?
The most difficult thing about busking is getting set up! Haha! Everything is heavy and lots of leads etc.
What do you do with the money you earn from busking?
I save my money from busking to use when I start recording my own music. Studio time is very expensive and I like to pay my own way for everything that I achieve.
If you could choose a lyric from any song that means something special to you, what would that lyric be?
I like the lyric: “We Are All One” it’s also the song title of my latest song. It means that we are all equal. We all have something that we are talented in. We just have to find it within ourselves.
Who are your musical inspirations?
My all time favourite singer is Adele. I just love her voice obviously but, she is just so down to earth and honest. I’m loving Billie Eilish at the moment too!
What’s some great advice you’ve received in your young lifetime so far?
Dame Kelly Holmes (British Double Gold Medalist in middle distance running) told me to never give up on my dreams. I was 7 years old at the time and singing at an event that she attended.
What’s next for you Kiah?
I write my own songs and will be recording a new EP soon.
“Some of you young folks been saying to me, Hey Pops, what you mean what a wonderful world? How about all them wars all over the place, you call them wonderful? And how about hunger and pollution? They ain’t so wonderful either.’“
“But how about listening to old Pops for a minute. It seems to me it ain’t the world that’s so bad, but what we’re doing to it, and all I’m saying is see what a wonderful world it would be if only we’d give it a chance. Love, baby, love. That’s the secret. Yeah. If lots more of us loved each other we’d solve lots more problems. And man, this world would be a gasser.“
Perhaps old Pops was on to something? There’s no happier music than jazz music.
We’ve been fortunate in the regional city of Albury in recent months to have been treated to some excellent jazz and big band street performances from visiting musos for the 74th Australian Jazz Convention and from the Kapooka Army Band in QEII Square at an event to raise awareness around domestic violence.
While this lot aren’t buskers – they’re just as joyful and we wanted to share the love with everyone here at Busker What’s Your Story?