Singapore River Buskers' Festival

The first Singapore River Buskers’ Festival was held along the Singapore River from 15 to 23 November 1997. Organised by The A Team Promotions in collaboration with the Singapore Tourist Promotion Board (STPB), the festival was part of the three-month Celebration Singapore programme presented by the STPB.1 The festival also sought help from the organisers of the Halifax International Busker Festival, an annual event held in Nova Scotia, Canada.

The first Singapore River Buskers’ Festival featured 17 international acts comprising juggling, mime and comedy from Argentina, Canada, Japan, the United Kingdom, the United States and Yugoslavia.

Busking (performing on the streets) was allowed in Singapore in the early 1990s but was stopped in 1994 due to abuses, such as performing at non-designated places.4 Busking was reintroduced on 1 October 1997 ahead of the festival.
Under the new scheme, buskers had to be affiliated with an arts group or training institution to obtain a busking license from the Public Entertainments Licensing Unit.6 They were also required to audition with the National Arts Council (NAC), keep to designated busking areas, refrain from interacting with the audience, and donate a portion of their earnings to arts or charity bodies.7 These measures aimed to ensure a certain standard of performance and to prevent busking from becoming a form of begging.8

Held at Clarke Quay and Riverside Point, the first Singapore Buskers’ Festival featured professional acts such as Big Business, two comedians on stilts from Britain; Tesseract, a team of acrobats from Canada; Nathalie Simard, a Canadian artist who painted faces; and Junkyard Symphony, a two-man act from Ontario, Canada that used musical instruments made from recycled items.9 Money was not solicited from the audience during the performances.10

Costing $250,000 to put together, the festival drew more than 250,000 spectators.11

Between1998 and 2005, the Singapore River Buskers’ Festival became an annual end-of-year event that grew in the number and variety of busking acts, and attracted more and more spectators. Each year, proceeds from the event were given to charity, such as the KK Outreach to Kids Fund and Autism Resource Centre.12

The second festival ran from 14 to 22 November 1998. At least 22 busking acts participated, including new acts from Brazil, and with Canadian face-painting artist Nathalie Simard re-joining the line-up.

In 1999, the festival was held from 20 to 28 November, with 24 buskers participating. Some new acts included: Hoop To It: Annie Dugan, a.k.a The Stealth Sterling or the Hoola Hoop Girl, and Whiplash: Brian Wilson and Jon Lockhart of The Cow Guys performing daredevil stunts.13 More than 300,000 people turned up for the festival, making it Asia’s second-largest street-entertainment carnival after Japan.14

Singapore’s fourth buskers’ festival in 2000 took place from 18 to 26 November.15 Boasting more than 800 acrobatic, comedic and musical acts by 30 buskers, the entertainment line-up included the Ballet Hooligans from Britain, funnyman Andy Zap from Australia and Canada’s gymnastic duo, Acromaniacs.16 The fourth festival, organised by festival producer Gwyndara International was modelled after the Edinburgh Fringe, a month-long festival with more than 5,000 shows.17

At least 25 buskers participated in the subsequent edition of the festival held from 17 to 25 November 2001.18 More than 450,000 people attended the festival and over $400,000 was raised for the Autism Resource Centre, a non-profit organisation that helps families with autistic children.19 In addition, the buskers also brought their performances to Bishan, Bras Basah, Kallang Bahru, Toa Payoh and Chinatown.20

In 2002, 30 buskers performed daily from 16 to 24 November, along the Singapore River at One Fullerton, Merlion Park, Clarke Quay, Robertson Walk, UE Square, Marina Square and the Esplanade.21 About 100 local and international performers entertained over 500,000 people over the course of nine days, which began with a Buskers Parade at Clarke Quay on 16 November.22 Proceeds went to four charities: AWWA Community Home for Senior Citizens, the Hospice Care Association, the Samaritans of Singapore and the Singapore School for the Visually Impaired.23 That year, the buskers’ festival received silver in the Grand Pinnacle Award category by the International Festival and Events Association (IFEA), a grouping of festival and event organisers from around the world.24

The seventh buskers’ festival was held from 15 to 23 November in 2003 and was renamed the Singapore Buskers’ Festival.25 The event saw 25 international acts from 10 countries performing more than 500 shows at venues such as Orchard Road, Robertson Walk, Clarke Quay, Zouk, Marina Square, Boat Quay and Changi Airport.26 The festival was launched with a procession by the street performers down Orchard Road.27 

he eighth buskers’ festival took place from 13 to 21 November 2004 with 22 international acts and 150 local performers.28 In 2005, the festival, which cost about $800,000 to stage, was cancelled due to a lack of funding and sponsorship.29  

Nureza Ahmad

1. Rav Dhaliwal, “Busking to Make Comeback; Performers Will Be Licensed,” Straits Times, 14 September 1997, 28. (From NewspaperSG)
2. Dhaliwal, “Busking to Make Comeback.” 
3. Dhaliwal, “Busking to Make Comeback.” 
4. Dhaliwal, “Busking to Make Comeback”; Pang Gek Choo, “Arts Council Drops Busking Scheme,” Straits Times, 18 August 1994, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
5. “Busking Legal,” New Paper, 1 October 1997, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
6. Rav Dhaliwal, “Only 6 Have Applied for Busking Licenses,” Straits Times, 20 October 1997, 27. (From NewspaperSG)
7. Dhaliwal, “Applied for Busking Licenses”; “Busking Legal.”
8. Dhaliwal, “Busking to Make Comeback”; Rav Dhaliwal, “Many Fear Control May Kill Spontaneity,” Straits Times, 5 October 1997, 30. (From NewspaperSG)9. “Busker Festival along Riverside Next Month,” Straits Times, 5 October 1997, 30. (From NewspaperSG)
10. Lilian Foo, “Busking by the River,” Straits Times, 15 November 1997, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
11. Foo, “Busking by the River”; Tay Kay Chin, “Buskers Down by the Riverside,” Straits Times, 14 November 1998, 71. (From NewspaperSG)
12. Krist Boo, “Have Fun with the Buskers Down by the River,” Straits Times, 17 November 2000, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
13. Karl Ho, “Busk in Their Glory,” Straits Times, 22 November 1999, 9. (From NewspaperSG)
14. Boo, “Have Fun with the Buskers.” 
15. Boo, “Have Fun with the Buskers.” 
16. Boo, “Have Fun with the Buskers.” 
17. Boo, “Have Fun with the Buskers.” 
18. “Buskers Festival Coming Your Way,” Straits Times, 17 November 2001, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
19. “Buskers Festival Coming Your Way”; Janice Lee, “A Festival with a HeartToday, 16 November 2002, 28. (From NewspaperSG)
20. “Buskers Festival Coming Your Way.”
21. “Singapore River Buskers’ Festival,” Straits Times, 11 November 2002, 9. (From NewspaperSG)
22. “Singapore River Buskers’ Festival”; Rachel Fang, “Buskers’ Fest Gets Bigger,” Today, 14 November 2003, 8. (From NewspaperSG)
23. Janice Lee, “Buskers Are Back,” Today, 8 November 2002, 12. (From NewspaperSG)
24. Bryan Lee, “Singapore Bags 20 Awards in Events Contest,” Straits Times, 20 November 2002, 12. (From NewspaperSG)
25. “Buskers to Set Streets Alight,” Straits Times, 2 November 2003, 23 (From NewspaperSG); Fang, “Buskers’ Fest Gets Bigger.”
26. Kelvin Wong, “If Busking Is Right Up Your Street…,” Straits Times, 14 November 2003, 15. (From NewspaperSG)
27. Wong, “Busking Is Right Up Your Street….”
28. David Chew, “8th Buskers Festival gets going from Saturday,” Today, 13 November 2004, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
29. Krist Boo, “Buskers Festival Bows Out,” Straits Times, 5 December 2005, 3. (From NewspaperSG)

The information in this article is valid as at 2016 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history on the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

Performing Arts
Special events--Singapore