Bringing music to the concrete jungle
By Katie Czenczek, Staff Writer
You’ve probably heard them while walking down Granville Street. In Vancouver—and any big city that allows it—busking is everywhere. We decided to talk to a few of Vancouver’s very own buskers and ask them a some questions about how they ended up entertaining the city.
Tom Coley, a vocalist and guitarist who’s often found busking at SkyTrain stations, took the time for an interview with the Other Press.
“I saw somebody busk when I was a kid. They looked like they were having so much fun and I knew that I was going to do the same thing,” he said. “This was early on, I was probably six or seven. When I first started busking, people like Guy Laliberté, who created Cirque du Soleil, would be on St. Paul Cathedral in Montreal, juggling before he was anybody. I mean, it was a community. I loved it. We all helped each other in every single way, even when we were doing all of our own things.”
Coley, whose performance style he described as “in your face,” also highlighted some of the things he wished pedestrians knew about the lifestyle.
“By being a busker, you’re bringing music to everyday people who don’t normally have a chance to listen. I think that it’s very important for our society to have music in these hallways, and in these concrete structures. There’s too much machine-like tension, without any music or measure, to quote Gord Downie. We remedy that.”
Jak Drum—a busker who’s been performing for 10 years now—is a chef who busts out the djembe in his spare time.
“I lived in Vancouver for a long time, so I always saw buskers on the street. One day, I thought to myself, next year I’m going to get me a drum,” he said. “Then I started playing at the Art Gallery and all the sudden—this was during a really tough breakup—all the stress melted off of me like butter in the hot sun.”
We asked Drum what his favourite thing about busking is, and he said that it sure as hell beats practicing alone.
“Well, I can go to the studio and practice, or I can go practice in the street and get immediate feedback. Faster than Rotten Tomatoes.”
Drum also shared one of his favourite moments while busking in Vancouver.
“I was performing outside of The Bay when a pregnant woman approached me,” he said. “The first thing I thought was, ‘I am not the father.’ Then, in tears, she tells me that her baby hasn’t kicked in six months until she walked by my drumming.”
Babe Coal, a vocalist and guitarist who could give Adele a run for her money, said to the Other Press that busking is a way for her to do what she loves.
“I like the freedom. I like the people. When I’m out here every day I get to meet people of all sorts and it’s just a really nice lifestyle—to come out and share that with people and have them respond, tell you how much they like it, and how much it affects their lives.”
We also asked her about some of the challenges she faces while performing in public spaces.
“My partner, Mitch, and I have been fighting for freedom of expression in the courts due to bylaws and enforcement. That’s the biggest challenge, standing up for your rights when government disobeys the law.”
Coal also elaborated on why this should matter to other Canadians.
“When you’re on the street I guess you get a different viewpoint from other people. It’s really opened my eyes to seeing what Canada’s really like, versus what we think it’s like. You grow in school and we’re told that Canada’s a free country and a place where people can seek refuge. We’re taught many things that make us think highly of the country. Then, when you’re out on the street, you start to experience things that make you question what Canada’s really about,” she said.
“What we’re taught is what we could be, but I think that it’s important that people realize that we have to keep standing up for our rights, so we don’t lose them. I think that with street performers and other people who are on the street, we can be the first targets for things like that. Hopefully, from being out here, we’re showing people that it’s a beautiful part of expression.”