KUALA LUMPUR (Bernama) — On the eve of the 2015 new year, Mohammad Yusof Omar walks in front of a bank in Jalan Bukit Bintang carrying a large box.
Clad in a black t-shirt and jeans, the slender 52-year-old with shoulder length hair unloads the box that carried musical and audio instruments and arranges it by the roadside.
Four other men of around his age appear shortly after, and each takes his place and picks up the instruments laid.
Not long after, youths on motorcycles started pulling up by the roadside, and gathered in front of the musicians in anticipation.
Mohammad Yusof, better known as Ucop, introduces the band to the crowd as “Rock Legend”.
However, such introduction was nearly unnecessary as the band have been actively performing around the city.
IT’S NOT ABOUT THE MONEY
The band starts by playing old favourites such as “Hotel California”, “Si Gadis Ayu” and “Sandiwara Cinta”, and the crowd cheers appreciatively.
Ucop holds out a cloth bag while singing and in less than 15 minutes, the bag is filled to the brim with money.
He said such was the routine of buskers like him. They typically start working at midnight by the roadside and their income depended solely on contributions.
However, he said, it was not about the money. Musicians like him are fuelled by the pleasure derived from in being able to entertain people with their music, even if only by the roadside.
“We (buskers) don’t really care how much money we make. Sometimes we have those in the audience who come to watch for free, but we don’t mind. What is important to us is the feeling we get from entertaining people on the streets,” he said.
He had only started busking five months ago but was positive about his longevity in the arena, judging from the crowd reaction when his band performed.
He said Rock Legend attracted an audience of over 100 people during their nightly performances at Bukit Bintang.
Audiences in Malaysia today are more receptive towards street performances than they were in the 1980s.
At the time, people were unaccustomed to standing in the streets for a length of time to watch a single busker perform.
Ucop said buskers then started teaming up to perform in bands so that audiences would feel like they were watching something more familiar, such as a concert performance.
The response has been so positive that many buskers have opted to turn it into their main source of income.
Mohd Arif Mohamad, 40, said his band’s daily income from busking could be as much as RM1,500 a day.
Mohd Arif performs with seven others under the band name “Sentuhan”. They perform around areas like the Sogo shopping complex, Bukit Bintang and Masjid India nightly.
He said many enjoyed street performances because of the laid-back atmosphere and the ability to enjoy a live musical performance without having to pay a premium price.
Street performances also provide a convenient way for city folks to relief stress without adding to their high-cost living expenses.
“We do not know what those people in our audience might be going through. They could be struggling with a financial situation or a family problem. However, we hope to make their burden lighter with our music,” he said.
EMPOWERING THE ART
Meanwhile the president of the Malaysian Buskers Club, Wady Hamdan said street performers today have a cleaner image than they did in the 1980s.
At the time, society linked them with unhealthy influences such as drug addiction and begging.
The club, established two years ago, made it compulsory for all 8,010 of its members to go for a urine drug test in their bid to erase such negative associations.
Wady said the move was a necessary one as the club aimed at uplifting the industry and turning into a respectable career path.
“Since its inception in 2012, the club has worked together with the National Anti-Drug Agency to ensure all members taking the drug screening test.
“All our members tested negative for drugs and that shows that societal perception about buskers have been wrong,” he said to Bernama.
There are currently some 10,000 buskers across the country and the figure is expected to rise.
Wady said today, 75 per cent of them had opted to turn street performances into their main source of income and became full-time buskers.
“This shows that they are making good money despite not charging for their live performances,” he said.