(Photo credits: Youth.Sg/Yasira Hannan)

If one goes to London, Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta, or any other city around the world, then one may see artists or musicians performing in public spaces for voluntary donations. This is called busking. This article attempts to encourage the Brunei government to seriously consider setting up busking zones in BSB. A survey was conducted in tandem with this study. It ran from the 21st to 25th Feb 2019. 364 responses were recorded (allowing a 5% margin of error) with the overwhelming majority in support of the idea.

(From left on the Horizontal Axis: Strongly disagree (1), disagree (2), neutral (3), agree (4) and strongly agree (5))

Firstly, 72.5% strongly agree that busking can promote Brunei’s creative industry. In the UK, the creative industry is part of a thriving economic sector. In 2016, it represents £92bn of UK’s GDP. With over 70% of Brunei’s GDP based on Oil and Gas, perhaps exploring the creative industry can be a step to take. While different circumstances may vary substantially between both economies, Brunei has done quite well when it comes to producing homegrown directors, musicians, and artists. More of these creative types can indeed contribute to our economy if they are continually given an enabling environment to thrive.

UK’s Ed Sheeran, for instance, began his career busking before he achieved global success. Since then his economic impact to the UK is quite substantial. Obviously, Ed Sheeran is an outlier. But who would imagine that from a nation of 450,000 people, Brunei can produce Fakhrul Razi who end up performing in front of one of the biggest superstars in the planet, Shah Rukh Khan? Even Brunei’s Putri Norizah performed in front of South Korea’s PSY. If Brunei has its own busking space, we can ‘level the playing field’ for other talents to perform and express their creativity. It is from these open platforms that more of our talents could be discovered. It is from these people that our creative industry can be further nurtured and grown.

What these types of individuals may lack, especially those who are still young and new, is the opportunity to showcase their skills in front of the public. Their eventual success could then reap a lot of economic returns to themselves and society. By playing in the public space, they can secure gig offers from the public. If they are paid $200 for a small family birthday performance then that is a good step to cultivating their entrepreneurial confidence. They can build themselves from there. In fact, 62.1% of the respondents strongly agree that busking can generate economic activity (e.g. part-time work) for youth.

Finally, it gives a breathing space for young people to express themselves through music and other performances. Indeed, 72.5% strongly agree that busking can serve as a good avenue to channel our youths energies to contribute positively to society. At a social level, this is crucial so that it can give room for young people to come together, socialise and have some fun. The generation who lived through the 90s were quite lucky as they have Michael Jackson performing in Jerudong Park. In any case, nothing is more detrimental to a young person’s growth than boredom and inactivity. These two areas could lead them to have mental health problems and make them gradually withdraw from the rest of society, furthering their alienation, resentment and hate towards themselves and their community. These things can best be avoided by opening up the entertainment scenery in the country. They can use these Busking zones to showcase their skills/talent and to have a get-together, say, in BSB’s Waterfront.

Now, having busking areas should not be seen as to conflict with the prevailing culture here in Brunei. Rather, musical performances and busking, in general, could boost and/or revive interest among the public and tourists in our culture and heritage. Indeed, such a process should be intensified as Brunei seeks to carve out its own unique identity, which would then further differentiate our nation and people from the rest of Southeast Asia. Young and even the old could perform Guling Tangan or Memukun in these basking areas for the public and tourists. 72.8% strongly agree with this viewpoint.

Furthermore, a good number of respondents support the idea so long as ground rules are put into place. These include restricting them from playing during prayer time or any religious days (such as during Ramadhan or on a Thursday night) and to play within a specific area that can easily be supervised. Licenses can also be given to the performers with compulsory classes they should take to understand and abide by these ground rules. Other rules include not playing nearby mosques, not allowing them to use amplifiers, and not playing music that is culturally unacceptable (music with explicit lyrics or Justin Bieber music).

74.7% of the respondents strongly agree that busking spaces could be introduced in commercial or tourist areas in the country.  The top suggestions given by the respondents include the Waterfront BSB, The Mall, Eco-Corridor, and Jerudong Park. Other non-BSB areas include the Tutong Waterfront and Belait KB Sentral.

Furthermore, busking can serve as an excellent opportunity to empower the differently-abled here in Brunei to showcase their talents. This was the case of Singapore’s Daniel Ng who works as a busker. Despite being blind since birth, he continues to inspire thousands every night as he performs in Singapore’s food courts and high streets. On this particular note, if Singapore has busking zones why can’t Brunei? Music unites us all regardless of our background and circumstances.

(Daniel Ng, 54, works as a busker in Singapore, performing in the city’s food courts and high streets every evening. He has been blind since birth.)

On the whole, basking can be a good opportunity for Brunei to consider as it builds the creative industry, provides space for our young people to express their skills or talent, enhances our culture and heritage and finally empowers people to express their creativity regardless of their background or circumstance. On that note, there should be ground rules and licenses that could be put into place to formalise the process. Introducing busking zones is something that the government should seriously look into, therefore.

Special note: To get the raw data from the survey you can access it here. If there were mistakes made, they are mine and mine alone. Moreover, I like to thank my friends (you know who you are!) and the Bru-redditor community for sharing/filling the survey. Subscribe to my site for more articles like this!