Music opens up new path
When we think of buskers in Hong Kong, certain people spring to mind: the blind or the elderly playing a sad tune with the erhu to earn a living.
Not anymore. A younger generation of buskers has emerged with the mission of sharing their art with strangers.
'In the past I was often the only person singing on the streets,' says Chau Chun-to, 25, who has been busking for more than four years.
'But towards the end of last year, more people were performing on the streets and the quality of buskers - in terms of their singing and appearance - has improved.'
Many young street performers like Chau are chasing a dream - to pursue a career in music.
'Time flies and I want to do something crazy when I'm still young,' says Chau. 'It's okay for me to be busking at 25, but it would be too weird to do so when I'm 52.'
Chau prefers to display his talents in the evening between Grand Century Place and
Mong Kok East MTR station or on Soy Street. Equipped with a guitar, a microphone and a portable sound system, Chau - like any serious artist - cares about the quality of his work.
'There are only a few places in Hong Kong for busking, and I'm quite fussy about my choice of location. It has to be a large, open-air public area, like a plaza,' he says.
Chau cites two main reasons for the rise in the number of quality buskers. Firstly, newly established pedestrian zones have become the favourite venues of many street performers. Secondly, politics is having an impact on busking.
'After the July 1 protest march [in 2003], more people are willing to express themselves [in public],' says Chau. 'I see salespersons on the streets and I ask myself: 'If they can promote products on the street, why can't I sing there?'.'
Chau enjoys performing songs by local rock band Beyond and Canto-pop stars Eason Chan Yik-chun and the late Leslie Cheung Kwok-wing.
'Their [Beyond's] spirit was very touching, and they really cared about music. Their songs were an integral part of my coming-of-age process,' says Chau.
'Through my street performances I want to spread the message of equality. There are superstars [who sing on a stage] and here's me, a normal guy singing on the streets.
But we are actually doing the same thing.
'You don't need someone to give you a chance to sing. Everybody can do that. It gives me the feeling that I'm sharing my happiness with people.'
Chau says busking has helped him become an outgoing and confident person who treasures friendship.
'I made dozens of new friends while performing on the streets ... It's funny because I couldn't make friends at work before,' says Chau, who hasn't had a full-time job for about a year.
As for the future, Chau - a Form Five graduate with a design certificate - says he wants to pursue a career in music. 'When I look up the Labour Department website, I know I've reached the point of no return. I can't tell people [during job interviews] that my work experience is singing on the streets for several years.'
Chau says he will approach record companies or send his songs to them. 'I don't have high hopes or want to become a big star. I just think it's the right thing to do. I don't really care about the results.'