The inaugural Singapore River Buskers’ Festival was held from 15 to 23 November 1997 along the Singapore River at Clarke Quay and Riverside Point. The S$250,000 festival was organised by The A Team Promotions in collaboration with the Singapore Tourism Promotion Board (STPB), and formed part of the line-up for the three-month Celebration Singapore programme led by the STPB. The festival also enlisted help from the organisers of the Halifax International Busker Festival, an annual event held in Nova Scotia, Canada.
The Singapore River Buskers’ Festival featured 17 international acts comprising comedy skits, juggling and acrobatic feats, with professional buskers hailing from countries such as Argentina, Canada, Japan, the United Kingdom, the United States and Yugoslavia.
Among the acts were a British comedy duo on stilts; acrobats, a face painter and a two-man band from Canada; an American tap dancer-cum-saxophonist; a “dragon toffee” maker from Japan; and a traditional dance and percussion
duo from Argentina. The 23 buskers invited for the festival were recommended by the Atlantic Buskers Society
The nine-day festival, which was open daily, attracted a crowd of more than 250,000 people. Money was not solicited from the audience during the festival performances.
Busking in Singapore had been legal during the early 1990s, but was banned in 1994 because of abuses to the busking scheme.
On 1 October 1997, shortly before the launch of the festival, the ban on busking was lifted. However, buskers had to abide by a number of requirements in order to attain a busking licence from the Public Entertainment Licensing Unit: affiliation with registered arts organisations; pass an audition held by the National Arts Council; submit locations and performance schedules to the authorities in advance; and donate a portion of their earnings to arts or charity bodies. Buskers were also prohibited from interacting with the audience. The regulations that accompanied the busking scheme were implemented to ensure that busking would not become a form of begging.
In December 1997, restrictions were relaxed slightly: Buskers were allowed to perform in pedestrian malls, and organisations could apply for busking licences that covered all the members, who in turn could either perform solo or as a group.
The Singapore Buskers’ Festival was held annually for eight years until 2005, when the event was cancelled due to lack of funding and sponsorship.
The festival was given a new lease of life when it resurfaced in 2010 as the Sentosa Buskers Festival, and ran for nine days from 27 November to 5 December.
Since then, the Sentosa Buskers Festival has been an annual affair, with its fifth edition held daily from 6 to 14 September 2014 on Sentosa’s Beach Plaza and Palawan Beach. The festival has seen a steady increase in visitorship: from 70,000 in 2010 to 100,000 in 2014.
1. Dhaliwal, R. (1997, September 14). Busking to make comeback; performers will be licensed. The Straits Times, p. 28; Foo, L. (1997, November 15). Busking by the river. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2. The Straits Times, 14 Sep 1997, p. 28; The Straits Times, 15 Nov 1997, p. 3.
3. The Straits Times, 14 Sep 1997, p. 28.
4. The Straits Times, 15 Nov 1997, p. 3.
5. Tay, K. C. (1998, November 14). Buskers down by the riverside. The Straits Times, p. 71. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; The Straits Times, 15 Nov 1997, p. 3.
6. The Straits Times, 14 Sep 1997, p. 28; Dhaliwal, R. (1997, October 5). Many fear control may kill spontaneity. The Straits Times, p. 30. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. Dhaliwal, R. (1997, October 20). Only 6 have applied for busking licences. The Straits Times, p. 27; Busking legal. (1997, October 1). The New Paper, p. 4; Back after 3-year break. (1997, October 2). The New Paper, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. Dhaliwal, R. (1997, December 18). Buskers allowed on pedestrian malls. The Straits Times, p. 3; The Straits Times, 5 Oct 1997, p. 30.
9. The Straits Times, 18 Dec 1997, p. 3.
10. Boo, K. (2005, December 5). Buskers festival bows out. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Ng, M. (2010, November 27). It’s a juggle out there. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
12. Kaur, G. (2014, September 6). Better busking. The Straits Times; Vasko, L. (2014, August 29). Festival fever. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
The information in this article is valid as at May 2015 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.