Buskers bring their magic to the Wa­ter­front

Often likened to beg­gars, im­promptu street per­form­ers make a valu­able con­tri­bu­tion to the per­form­ing arts, writes YAZEED KAMALDIEN

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FRONT PAGE -

WALK­ING through cen­tral Cape Town on any typ­i­cal day, you can spot a num­ber of buskers ply­ing their trade, but often their singing or danc­ing is viewed as just an­other form of beg­ging.

Yet, in­ter­na­tion­ally, busk­ing is so much a part of per­for­mance art com­pa­nies are set up to man­age these artists who are booked for fes­ti­vals in var­i­ous cities.

Tony Lankester, chief ex­ec­u­tive of the Cape Town Buskers Fes­ti­val, which is run­ning for this first time this week, says in­ter­na­tional street per­form­ers are so busy that it’s dif­fi­cult to pin them down for a book­ing.

The fes­ti­val, on at the V&A Wa­ter­front un­til to­mor­row, is an ad­di­tional plat­form added to this year’s third an­nual Fringe Fes­ti­val which fea­tures shows from around the world at var­i­ous venues.

Lankester said the Buskers Fes­ti­val was aimed at “in­tro­duc­ing South Africans to this cul­ture”, while help­ing per­form­ers grow.

“Buskers are artists who work on a dif­fer­ent stage. Work per­formed on the street is a lot more in­ter­ac­tive. The dy­namic be­tween artists and au­di­ence is dif­fer­ent,” he ex­plained.

“Busk­ing is en­ter­tain­ment and it is part of an arts land­scape.

“One of the big dif­fer­ences be­tween South African and in­ter­na­tional buskers is that the in­ter­na­tion­als are used to hus­tling for cash.

“They have a very struc­tured per­for­mance. South African buskers stand up with a gui­tar, sing for 45 min­utes and then sit down hop­ing for cash.”

Lankester said the work­shops were a step to­ward pro­fes­sion­al­is­ing busk­ing lo­cally.

“In­ter­na­tional artists are booked through an in­ter­na­tional street theatre com­pany,” he said, point­ing out the com­pany told him they didn’t have a sin­gle South African on their books.

“We are hop­ing to change that and help South African artists to grow. In­creas­ingly, busk­ing is hap­pen­ing along­side big city fes­ti­vals. It brings streets alive.”

Theatre direc­tor Tara Not­cutt and dancer Sipho Didiza were in charge of cu­rat­ing the fes­ti­val pro­gramme.

Not­cutt dis­missed no­tions that busk­ing was in­fe­rior to what “real” artists or per­form­ers do in the­atres, for ex­am­ple.

“Busk­ing takes a lot of guts and courage. You have to en­tice peo­ple to your per­for­mance,” she said.

“It’s pro­vid­ing a bite-size of some­thing mean­ing­ful in some­one’s day. It’s a less for­mal en­vi­ron­ment and the most suc­cess­ful per­form­ers make peo­ple feel like they have watched some­thing spe­cial.

“Busk­ing takes a very par­tic­u­lar kind of per­former. It takes a spe­cial kind of crazy, and it is won­der­ful to get into it.”

Didiza said busk­ing was a chance for artists who usu­ally per­formed on theatre stages to “ex­pand their skill set as an artist”.

“You can find some­thing that you’re good at, and this could al­low you to pro­gramme some­thing in­stead of wait­ing on an au­di­tion,” said Didiza.

Per­for­mance artist Amy Wat­son, who has cre­ated site-spe­cific work per­formed in var­i­ous kitchens, said while she was not a busker per­form­ing in public spa­ces, her work was im­por­tant for the arts. She will per­form at the fes­ti­val.

“Art is for ev­ery­body, not only peo­ple who buy tick­ets to see a show in a theatre. Lots of peo­ple think of busk­ing only as singers, a guy with a gui­tar or street dance,” she said.

“It’s very easy to be dis­mis­sive of street per­for­mance… But there should be fund­ing to make work for out­doors. If we don’t, we are ne­glect­ing an en­tire per­for­mance-watch­ing pop­u­la­tion.

“We need to make spa­ces for peo­ple who don’t make work for tra­di­tional theatre spa­ces.”

Wat­son views busk­ing as a way for the artis­tic com­mu­nity to “make public spa­ces ex­cit­ing”.

“Work­ing with ex­ist­ing buskers to cu­rate spa­ces, to en­cour­age and al­low op­por­tu­ni­ties, would en­able them to do their work.

“It is also im­por­tant to al­low other artists who want to make work for public spa­ces,” she said.

For Owen “Bravo” Mn­gomezulu, who has been busk­ing for 16 years, it has al­ways been a “good op­por­tu­nity”.

“Busk­ing is like any other pro­fes­sion. This is a job. There are peo­ple around the world who give busk­ing a high pro­file. Peo­ple re­spect them as artists,” he said.

‘Art is for

ev­ery­body, not only for those peo­ple who buy tick­ets to see a show in a

“I’ve been busk­ing in the whole of South Africa. I’ve been to South Korea, the UK, Ire­land, Botswana and Le­sotho. I have been hired to per­form at fes­ti­vals and some­times I go on my own to busk in the street.

“I know how to do it and how to get money with­out pro­vok­ing any­one. I can get the stingi­est per­son to pay me. I use com­edy.”

Mn­gomezulu said busk­ing was about “en­ter­tain­ing peo­ple and bring­ing dif­fer­ent peo­ple to­gether”. He will also per­form at this week­end’s fes­ti­val.

“The Wa­ter­front is the best place to be as a per­former,” he said of the venue. “This is where you will find peo­ple from all around the world. You don’t have to scout for an au­di­ence. They are all here.”

Henry Mathys, se­nior events co-or­di­na­tor at the Wa­ter­front, said the precinct had had a busk­ing pro­gramme for the past 20 years, which meant the Buskers Fes­ti­val was a “nat­u­ral fit” for them.

“The fes­ti­val of­fers an op­por­tu­nity to in­vest in the de­vel­op­ment of buskers and to as­sist in mak­ing it a more recog­nised art­form,” he said.

Mean­while, au­di­tions for the Wa­ter­front’s busk­ing pro­gramme are on­go­ing. “Ev­ery six months, au­di­tions are held at the am­phithe­atre. We gen­er­ally get be­tween 35 and 50 buskers at each au­di­tion,” said Mathys.

He added many artists across the world had been dis­cov­ered through the art of


busk­ing. “As a child, Justin Bieber busked on the streets of Canada. So did singers Tracy Chap­man, Rod Ste­wart and our very own Karin Zoid, who used to busk as a stu­dent.

“Busk­ing is a flex­i­ble and cre­ative way for young ma­gi­cians, artists, mu­si­cians and other cre­ative per­form­ers to not only earn an ad­di­tional in­come, but to also be­gin build­ing a loyal fan base. Per­form­ing at the Wa­ter­front, for ex­am­ple, ex­poses buskers to many vis­i­tors.”

The Cape Town Buskers Fes­ti­val runs to­day and to­mor­row from noon to 4pm at the V&A Wa­ter­front Am­phithe­atre. Per­for­mances are free.


Owen “Bravo” Mn­gomezulu has been busk­ing for the past 16 years and will be part of the Cape Town Buskers Fes­ti­val at the V&A Wa­ter­front this week­end.

OC­TO­BER 8 2016

A stilt walker at the V&A Wa­ter­front.

Per­for­mance artist Amy Wat­son sees busk­ing as an op­por­tu­nity for ac­tors to step out­side of tra­di­tional the­atres, and in­ter­act with au­di­ences in public spa­ces.

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