While My Ukulele Softly Sings

While My Ukulele Softly Sings

(On Busking as an Outlet for One’s Passion for Music)

In the Philippines, a person playing a guitar or any other musical instrument in a street corner or at a park is seen usually as a panhandler, a beggar, or a nuisance. Here in Canada, street or public musicians or performers, popularly known as buskers, play music or entertain people not necessarily to beg for money but also to express their passion for music and the art of performing.

Nowadays, busking is no longer strictly limited to performing as a means of receiving money or gratuities. Many artists and musicians have elevated it to the level of an art, turning the activity to a respectable form of musical and artistic expression. Some aspiring musicians and artists even use it as an opportunity to improve their playing as well as to develop self-confidence in performing in public. Some even use it to promote their music. In fact, many names in the annals of international music started their careers as buskers—like Andrea Bocelli, B.B. King, Bob Dylan, The Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane, Jimi Hendrix, Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell, and Woody Guthrie. In the Alternative music scene, bands that continue to busk to showcase their music include Jimmy Jimmy from Coventry, England; and The Wrong Trousers from California, United States. Moreover, some musicians busk only as a hobby or as an outlet to showcase their talent or meet people.

In Winnipeg where I live, The Forks Market is a place where buskers have become a part of the city’s everyday people. Being a musician and artist myself, I always take some time to watch and listen to appreciate these buskers, sparing some coins and engaging them in conversations.

Some of the buskers who are common faces at The Forks Market and in other places in Downtown Winnipeg and who are now friends of mine include Christine Mazur—a lawyer, publishing marketing coordinator, writer, and music teacher who plays the violin, cello, and piano and busks once in a while at The Forks Market and in front of Portage Place on Portage Avenue; Dave Labovich, who plays banjo and mandolin and busks at The Forks Market regularly; and Idrissa Turay, a schoolbus driver who sings usually Bob Marley songs accompanied by his acoustic guitar at The Forks Market every time he is not working. In fact, Mazur and Labovich are currently members of my band haLf man haLf eLf, playing the violin and the cello and the banjo and the mandolin, respectively.

In the Internet age, there’s now this so-called cyberbusking. The countless aspiring musicians and performers who post online (e.g. YouTube) the amateur or homemade videos of their musical or artistic performances are what we may call cyberbuskers. They do this primarily to gain attention and popularity, as a hobby, or to promote their music. Artists who catapulted to popularity because of YouTube include the young and now popular Canadian singer Justin Bieber who started his career by posting videos of his performances as a child; the Filipino vocalist Arnel Pineda who got hired as the vocalist of the American Rock band Journey when the band’s members saw on YouTube his impressive renditions of classic Journey songs; the Winnipegger highschool student multi-instrumentalist Sean Quigley whose homemade video of his Alternative Rock version of “The Little Drummer Boy” became a hit; and another Winnipegger, the young Filipina girl Maria Aragon, whose piano-vocal rendition of Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” got the attention of the popular Pop singer herself and, as a result, catapulted Aragon to instant popularity.

Final Note
The bottom line is, if you’re a musician or an artist who wants yourself or your music to become recognized, just play and play and keep on uploading on the Internet such videos of these—for whatever happens, you get to earn two good things—become popular worldwide in a streak of luck and hard work or, at the least, to be able to share your talent and music to your friends and loved ones—a sort of documenting your well-rendered performances.