I began my busking adventures on April 30th 2016. At 41 years old.
I’ve been a musician for years, yet I have had little exposure to gigging. It’s been a very on/off thing that I do.
The busking idea was lingering in my mind for a few months. And then, with losing my beautiful and musically talented nephew, Alexander May on March 13th 2016, and preparing to play in a gig in his honour, the idea got really woken up. I responded to it, got an amp, and launched my adventures.
Because I have never done busking before in my life (apart from in past drunken escapades where I’ve borrowed other buskers guitars) it felt like the complete unknown to me. I decided to record my journey through videos so I could share with other buskers and aspiring buskers all that I’m discovering and learning and I’ve been discovering and learning a lot.
I became inspired yesterday to take a look at the history of busking. I was wanting to know where it came from, how it came about and why.
The inspiration came from a rare type of feedback ‘You should be ashamed of yourself, a rich person begging!’ Hmm. So many distorted perceptions rolled into one there. This is the second time I’ve received a comment like that. I see that ‘they’ see that it is about money, and it is not. This got me pondering the start of busking. Did it only come about as a means of making a living? Or, did it, as I suspected, come about as an abundant out spilling and sharing of gifts into the world? A world that is made richer and more enjoyable by the spontaneous sharing of art forms.
Because I am in a state of experimentation and discovery I find the entire process of busking fascinating; my inner experiences, the impact on people, how people react, how the atmosphere is affected, what I see and learn about humanity and so much more.
Most of the time, a good 99% of the time, the feedback I receive is grateful and appreciative and encouraging. And then there’s the rare odd occasion where someone will offer their displeasure.
The comment yesterday where I was told “You should be ashamed of yourself . . . . “ I’ve translated through the lens of my higher self to mean “I’m provoking you to be inspired to look at the roots of busking” so thank you random lady for that inspiration!
Therefore, I became curious about how busking came about and why. I’ll share what I’ve learned today.
The History of Busking
Busking a.k.a street performance has been practised throughout all cultures by men, women and children since the beginning of social time.
Although in the UK the term busker is usually associated with musicians, the term in the U.S is broader and covers more acts like acrobats, magicians, jugglers, puppeteers etc.
The verb ‘to busk’ orignates from the Spanish word ‘buscar’ which means ‘to seek’. It was the Romany gypsies that brought the work ‘buscar’ to the rest of Europe from Spain. Nowadays the word ‘buscar’ is still used in Spanish but refers mostly to female street sex workers/prostitutes, or, women who are seeking to become a mistress of a married man, rather than referring to buskers. Also in the old French language ‘busquer’ (meaning ‘to prowl’) was also used to describe prostitutes.
I found this fact fascinating and it made me wonder if there’s something lingering in our collective mindset about this words origins. It made me wonder about the stigma that’s attached to busking and where it came from and it got me acknowledging the shame that’s attached to prostitution and sex workers and I find it bizarre that these two practices are stemming from the same root word. ‘To seek’ ‘To prowl’ . . . are buskers musical prostitutes? Eh? Mind! Give over! I wondered if this had anything to do with being told ‘You should be ashamed of yourself’ . . . curiouser and curiouser!!
I let that pondering go.
However, the Spanish ‘buscar’ and the French ‘busquer’ originate from the Indo-European word ‘bhudh-sko’ which means ‘to win/conquer’.
So, I like to think of the remaining energy of the root word to be meaning ‘looking for somewhere to share ones gifts with others and winning their attention and appreciation’.
The Busking Energy Exchange
Buskers through out time have come to the streets to perform and share their gifts freely, yet also being open to receiving ‘gratuities’ – money, meals, drinks, gifts, as an energy exchange. The differing intentions and expectations around this would depend on the individuals.
In the past ‘street performance’ was a common way for most musicians to make a living. Prior to the recording age people would only be able to enjoy music if it were performed live. Musicians bringing it to the streets was and continues to be a great way to share their gifts with the world, as well as a great way of these gifts being received and celebrated by the world, otherwise much of it would get missed.
Here’s a great quote from Ketch Secor – “… it all started on street corners, and that is still very connected to what we [buskers] do. It’s such a validating musical experience. Busking is a very humble and brave act that takes courage to do well. It’s also about the energy of music being alive outside in a city . . you can walk right by it right in front of you. Sure, to some people you’re just another guy with his hand out, so sometimes busking can be a great social barometer. You’re able to gauge who you live with on earth.”
Many Started With Busking
Folk music has always been a major part of the whole busking scene. In the 1960’s group busking happenings, which were known as ‘be – in’s’ occurred in the US, particularly around the Francisco area. Performers and bands would gather together and play and when done ‘pass the hat’ and share the proceeds. There are many famous people who stared their careers this way including – Jimi Hendrix, The Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin and Jefferson Airplane.
The most recent new form of busking is known as ‘Cyber Busking’ where performers record their acts and share them online with a ‘donate’ button so that people can donate and support f they choose to.
The first law ever to come in and affect buskers was passed in 462bc in ancient Rome. They brought about a law called ‘The Law of 12 Tables’ which made it punishable by death for anyone to sing about the government and it’s officials in public places. Hmm. Tempted to create a parody now . . . not sure if that law still exists! Although it is generally prohibited to perform using sexuality explicit, or obscene language. This is known as ‘Performing Blue’.
There are no other universal codes of conduct around busking, but there are different codes of conduct and licensing issues in different places. It depends where you are though. And, throughout Europe and the states buskers are protected under the constitutional law and the European common law of ‘Artistic Free Speech’.
The Buskers Alchemy
Author Susie J Tanenbaum found through sociological studies that crime rates tended to drop in areas that were regularly attended by buskers. I love this fact! My inner crime rate drops as I share and tune into the effects! I’ve been noticing very much how the atmosphere is affected by the presence of my busking. Amy Miller, DJ of The One Love radio show at www.riviera.fm shared this with me today –
“when I see people coming towards the space where Alexa is playing, there is a visual shift in their gait, an emotional connection between all hearing the same sounds, and you can see everyone change and shift to match the frequency of what they are listening to … you can see them all connect asking or confirmation that they are all listening to the see beauty, and as they walk closer towards the music, their heart opens and they connect on an emotional level. I can see it every time Alexa is playing…. “
People are touched. In different ways! And many aren’t. But those who are, the feedback mostly is positive and thankful. This imapactfulness is known as ‘triangulation’ – having the power to change the way that people experience and perceive the space that they are accompanying. Being able to shift a space from being neutral into a a space with a creative identity.
My Busking Mission
From my perspective it feels like I have a gentle mission. To reveal and share myself through the harmonic translation of life. To trust that that participation with life is part of the grand scheme. To go where my body wants to be. To sit and allow the creative to move and express through me. To be seen. To share. I benefit from it. Even though I often get nervous. I benefit and from what I have heard back, so do others. If I get even just one wee knowing smile from one other being I feel that my mission is accomplished. I thank the Universe for using me well!
Benjamin Franklin was a busker! He would take to the streets singing songs and sharing poetry and prose! He was discouraged by his father who was concerned about the stigma attached to busking, and it was through these experiences that Franklin grew his beliefs around free speech.
Considering my looking at this subject was inspired by a jarring comment from a passer by who obviously has some deep rooted uncomfortable issues around money and what it is, I found it amazing to learn that Franklin started off busking and ended up with his face on the U.S Dollar bill!!! Mmmmmmm . . . .