Bandung Buskers


In this sprawling highland city, known for its technical university and indie music scene, buskers are as ubiquitous as they are persistent. One need to not seek them out, just take a seat at a food stall or hop on a minibus and a man with a guitar or ukulele will come to you. Along Dipatiukur Street, the slow traffic and busy market seem to be ideal terrain for these fleeting entertainers. They step onto passing busses, and after playing crouched in the doorway for about 30 seconds, extend a plastic cup for spare change. As soon as someone pays he is gone, almost as if we are paying him not to play, but go away.

On my way through Dipatiukur, I noticed a pair of musicians squatting besides the traffic jam, clearly not engaging in the guerilla performance tactics of their many colleagues. Later that afternoon on my return trip, I hopped off the minibus to pay them a visit. I asked if I could record something, and before I could even offer any money the guitarist and violinist launched into a pair of film songs that they learned off of YouTube. Apparently this is from the Korean TV series Full House.

IMG_1357When I asked the violinist how he learned music, he replied simply: “otodidak.” This cognate of ‘autodidact’ has somehow become an everyday term for ‘self-taught’ in Indonesia (besides autodidact musicians I have also met an autodidact audio engineer and guitar luthier). Their instruments were similarly DIY. The guitarist had tied together two strings in order to reach one of the tuning pegs, and he strummed with a piece of rigid plastic cut into a triangle. The violinist had added a fifth string to his instrument by drilling a hole in the headstock and inserting an extra tuning peg. Perhaps only in Bandung would you find such musically and mechanically inclined buskers. I gave the pair the equivalent of a few US dollars for their time; in this case at least their less aggressive approach to street performance paid off.