Two buskers tell us why they do it.

David Regu

Forty-six-year-old David Regu’s journey into busking began immediately after he completed his national service. He busked for fun at numerous MRT stations for more than 20 years, before auditioning for the NAC and earning himself a letter of endorsement just last year. Now he busks “365 days a year, come rain or shine,” he says.

For most of his life, Regu has done contract work. After a particularly bad year, when he had no work, he decided to busk full-time as a vocalist and guitarist. His obligatory repertoire includes many hit songs, including “Have I Told You Lately,” “A Crazy Little Thing Called Love” and “Hey Jude”. Although he doesn’t draw the crowd in droves like eight-year-old drummer Ethan Ong does, Regu is thankful that “the crowds’ response has been pretty good so far.” Last year, he was part of a funeral band, which paid him $150 on top of his daily $20-30 busking earnings. It has been tough but “even when cash is low, I need not beg, borrow or steal, as I have something to tide me over,” he says.

Regu has a host of other problems. Homeless and single, he showers at a friend’s office and sleeps on a bench at Riverside Point. To prevent thieves from pinching the pittance that he earns, he says “I sleep under security cameras so that anything that happens to me can be recorded.” However, this has not stopped him from being robbed twice and attacked by gangsters three times. Nevertheless, he relentlessly returns to his sleeping spot night after night.

Regu has been performing in a Clarke Quay underpass for a year now. He has tried Orchard Road a few times, but finds it too competitive there. “I also avoid places like Chinatown because most of the crowd prefers Chinese music, and I can only do English numbers.” To supplement his meager income as a busker, Regu started a cleaning business, but has yet to attract any client. While waiting for good tidings to come his way, Regu remains committed to busking and “will stop only when I die,” he says. There’s definitely no turning back for this admirable busker, who also adds that “busking makes me feel good and has helped heal my soul.” Regu also happily recalls a time when a sailor popped a $50 note into his box. “It was the first and only time that I received a $50 note from a single person,” he says.

Ethan Ong

Arguably one of the most talked about and successful buskers in town, eight-year-old Ethan Ong garners thunderous applause whenever he hits the drums along Orchard Road. This child prodigy busks for the love of it, unlike most buskers in town who are doing it to earn their keep. Coming from a privileged background, this devout Christian sees busking not as a means to an end, but as an opportunity to use his talent and break away from his mundane routine at home. Ethan’s father Bernard Ong, who accompanies him on all his performances, says that busking has contributed to Ethan’s confidence and “is the only way to practice.” Bernard adds, “It would be impossible to do so at our condominium, as the neighbors would get annoyed.” Asked why he busks, Ethan simply answers, “I like to share the talent that God has given me with everyone else.”

Ethan’s favorite hot spot is outside Paragon, where he performs from 3pm to 6pm every weekend. He recalls two particularly memorable occasions when “a lady jumped out of her car to give me money, and a man asked me for my autograph!” Despite the overwhelming attention, the little drummer boy, who reveres drum legends Akira Jimbo and Dennis Chambers, has managed to stay humble. His advice to parents who have kids who want to busk is to “stay committed and let your children enjoy the experience.” Busking is certainly not about the money for the talented Ethan. Although judging by the hundreds of supportive fans who gather around Ethan every weekend to watch him play, he could certainly do well for himself if he keeps this up long enough.

Star Light, Star Bright

We shed light on some of our worst and best buskers.

Leo Lim

Never mind that he’s been performing on the Orchard Road underpass for more than 20 years. This supremely untalented busker amplifies his voice using a battery operated amplifier, and is still going strong despite his non-singing voice.

Star Power: 1 Thumb Up

Gn Kok Lin

We’ll give it to the 72-year-old who can play a harmonica and juggle two tennis balls at the same time. But man, the noise that he makes with those clogs sure is cloying.

Star Power: 1 Thumb Up

David Regu

Regu’s repertoire of songs may be predictable, but his lively renditions more than make up for it.

Star Power: 3 Thumbs Up

Loh How Tong

Harmonica player Loh, who can be found mostly on weekends near the escalators outside Shaw House, plays evocative tunes that are reminiscent of film music composer Ennio Morricone’s.

Star Power: 3 Thumbs Up

Ethan Ong

What’s not to like about this amiable and energetic eight-year-old drummer who draws the crowd whenever he plays? We always keep an eye out for this small wonder every time we’re in town.

Star Power: 4 Thumbs Up

Mashruddin bin Saharuddin

At 53, this vocalist and guitarist with a Stevie Wonder-likeness plays mostly at the Tampines MRT and sings with heartfelt emotions. He’s certainly one of the most soulful we’ve heard.

Star Power: 4 Thumbs Up

How hard can busking be you ask? Follow us as we attempt to find out what it means to be a busker in Singapore.