The Problem With Busking in Singapore

 

N and I chanced upon this band of buskers at a secluded corner of Punggol Waterway Point; if there were no activities (usually organised by the grassroots committees), no one will actually be there. That happened to be one of those secluded nights.

I would not say their performance was comparable to top acts like Mayday, but they were so good that we stayed around to watch them complete a number. They were so unlike that busker at the entrance of the MRT station we just went past.

That busker, looked aged 60+, was singing along to a minus-1 track blasted through a super-loud speaker. That lack of sincerity aside, his singing was horrendous (off-key, off-tempo, break voice). Worse still, he was expecting people to throw some change into his container.

The question that came to my mind was, was he worth our “donation”?

The sad fact was, this MRT busker was not alone. There were people like him all over Singapore, parked outside the entrances of MRT, choking high-traffic pathways, doing their horrific performance. And they survived well.

I remembered my roommate and I once joked about a certain “Songbird” at Simei (back in 2011), who was just as bad in singing. A few months later, she moved to Tampines, a place with higher foot traffic, which I assumed was a “promotion” for her to be able to get a slot over there.

I know many people are going to chide me for making such nasty judgement about these MRT buskers. Most of them are (I assume) handicapped, who would otherwise not have found employment. In fact, some might argue the older folks are there because they had been unemployed for so long, and yet they need some form of income to survive.

“The least we could do is to sympathise with them and allow them to earn their keep.” the argument would go.

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To me, this notion is so wrong on many levels.

First, is it really right for us to pay someone who can’t really do a good job at something, just because they are struggling with life?

What is the kind of message we are sending, to our young ones and to the ones who are actually trying their best to do better in order to get out of whatever bad situations they are in? What about the buyers of the products we are selling or exporting to?

In the meantime, capable artistes are relegated to secluded locations and may even have to pay to use the venue — we are punishing high performing people while encourage low performers to stay status quo, and in the process, lowering the overall quality of our output as a society.

The thing is, there are better ways for us to help the handicapped or the unemployed. Yellow Ribbon Project, for example, does not simply ask the members of the public to accept ex-offenders (like they are entitled to be accepted). Instead, officers and counsellors worked hard to identify a strength or competency each and every inmate has, and then developed their capabilities according to what the society requires.

Someone who is talented in music will be trained by an expert to carry out a variety of performance. Another with good analytical skills are put to work in the warehouse or kitchen so that they can work for a logistics or catering company in the future.

Read: Prison Kitchen Supplies Nursing Home Meals

We should apply what had been working right for YRP to those who ended up busking (and torturing commuters) at the MRT stations.

We should not be appointing people to perform at the MRT stations just because they have been unemployed for ages already. It will not only make them a laughingstock (surely they have something they can do better to earn their keep!), but it is also a direct mockery at our highly-regarded principle of “meritocracy”.

Yes, the existence of sub-standard buskers at our public places is another symptom of our society’s dropping standards. Soon, people will be asking not to be retrenched by virtue that they have a family of 4 to feed, rather than them possessing some skills beneficial to the company.

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