Busking in Brussels

Busking in Brussels

When we drove into Brussels from the South East and first thing I noticed was the lush green canopy that filled the car with cool, fresh air. Zoniënwoud park, over a kilometer long was a welcome break of scenery after a long drive through Belgium’s badly paved roads. It was rush hour, and the streets were slow, yet the bike lanes were free and open and the bikes seamlessly slipped along the sidelines of the slow traffic. “I’m going to like it here” I said to myself.

We stop in Ixelles, at a friend’s place, where we were staying for the weekend. They lent us a couple bicycles, told us downtown is easy to find, and invite us out for a beer. It’s the freshest beer I’ve ever tasted. Generally beer tastes like rotten wheat to me, but Brussels knows how to turn this into sweet chocolate. I can’t even believe North Americans drink the piss they do after now knowing what a real beer tastes like.

Downtown Brussels

We talk about the local political climate in Belgium, the corruption of politicians and manipulative ways they hold onto their workforces for low wages with an unstable euro. The incredibly cheap living makes it a great hub for artists to aim for. “They say Liege is the next Berlin” my friend Jessica says.

 It’s interesting, the Berlin artists themselves seem to be a bit disenchanted with the rising costs of living, and the amount of competition between artists. It has been a hub for artistic endeavors for over 10 years, so perhaps it is a good time for Liege to take the reigns. Flocks of artists of all types, including street performers,  have been coming through town to catch the international crowds that the United Nations Regional Information Centre for Western

Europe Conference Center. Combined with cheap living and appreciation for the arts, it’s a dream come true for artists like us.

The diversity in this city is incredible. There is a deep rift of differential power dynamics as the political power swings from Flemish to French and back again every decade. It gives a humility to the individuals, and awareness of difference and identity politics that comes with the territory of having a huge insurgence of immigrants and political differences.

The next morning we find ourselves on bicycles. My hosts were right, it’s an easy and flat 10 minute ride into the city. We are now the ones sliding by all the cars in those bike lanes. We pass many major sites such as the UN Conference Center, Palace Royal and eventually Bourse de Bruxelles.

Busking in Brussels

After passing through the ring-road that all the European cities have, we started riding downhill into the depths of town near the palace of beaux arts, near the beautiful clock tower, as the roads turn thinner and windy. We rode down and down, stopping to find our way a few times, until we reach Marché De l’Agora Bruxelles next to Galerie du Roi 5. Immediately, the first thing we see as we reach downtown are the friendly buskers Roxyr Band. They speak Flemish, unfortunately, so they could only tell us their name, but they were inviting and animated as a group.

Here in the depth of the city, the streets are all cobblestone, and much of this space is pedestrianised, with the odd car pushing through the people. Pedestrians are taking over the hearts of many European cities these days. The newish concept of placemaking is known to make these communities unique and lively, rather than commercialized copy cats of the globalized franchises. They are working on creating more pedestrianised spaces with events, contests and thematic zones on top of this already wonderful space.

Busking in Brussels

Brussels has a notorious reputation for amazing musical talent lining the streets. As I passed through Rue Fripiers Kleernopes we met a group called Fratras from Brittany, France. They were friendly and willing to give advice on how street performance works here, even with my horribly broken French. They said that they loved busking in Brussels, they made good money and that the crowds were open and happy to see them.

Everyone is required to get a license to play on the streets, but because they were from out of town they had to apply 3 months in advance. The license lasts 1 month before you have to renew, and it’s easily obtained at La Maire (city hall). There is one catch: You must have a degree in arts!

Well, that explains the amazing quality of musicians here. According to the band, they did have a member with a musical arts degree, however, they never used it; they just needed to prove they were professionals and then they were accepted. You can also try out for their auditions that meet twice a year, but that’s more difficult for us touring street performers.

They also said they only had the police check who they were once, then their only police interactions were waving friendly hellos on their way by. It’s easy to find information about street performance in Brussels on their website. Be aware: Belgium is notorious for having paperwork completed to the letter! They will send you back if it’s not completed in full.

The downtown core is filled will roaming police officers, and rumours have it that you will be moved on quickly if you do not obtain a license. I decided to tempt fate anyway, and did my own small contact juggling atmosphere act in the grassmarket.

Using (normally forbidden) amplification to back my ball dance, crowds instantly gathered. I told my boyfriend it would only be for an hour, but I instead ended up doing three hours straight it was so enjoyable to be there and I was making so much money. This was supposed to be our holiday after all, but who can resist visiting every busker and trying a taste of the local street culture?

Lucky me, there were no police at this time. This was likely because there was a huge crowd gathered around a hotel where some famous person was staying, and it could be assumed they were busy that day taking care of those crowds instead. If I was to go back there, and I hope to very soon, I would make the effort to obtain a license.

Tour Guide Busking

If you don’t have much talent in music or circus, it seems as though giving guided tours through the city was also lucrative. These gentlemen also earned their living through tips and some received grand rounds of applause at the end of each tour. It would certainly be worth it as a summer job!

All in all, busking in Brussels was a treat. It seemed to be mostly a musician’s playground, but the website does state circus acts are welcome. There are a few walk-by buskers at restaurants, including opera singers. It was great to see the streets so lively. At the very last minute before we were about to leave I got to hear some great French hip-hop from this man in front of the tourist information. Then it was a quick dash to get to Valkenburg before nightfall, so we could see the national living statue competition.

Hip Hop Busker

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Busking Taipei City – an interview with Simon Chen 陳星合

A few months back, at the beginning of summer, I requested an interview with Simon Hsing-Ho Chen 陳星合 regarding the audition process for street performers in busking Taipei City in Taiwan. We first met briefly during a show I was performing at the Toronto Busker festival. Since then, I have been following his journey through the world and gotten to know this hard working performer.

Dawn Dreams and Simon Chen
Dawn Dreams and Simon Chen

Simon is full of smiles, and it’s easy to be around him. He explained his experience in busking himself, most recently at the festival d’Avignon in France. Specifically, that after he had been performing in  Cirque du Soleil’s show he still failed the busking audition in Taipei, Taiwan.

“It’s harder than being a lawyer” Simon says “They will even criticize you to tell you that you ‘need to work on your smile’ when you are auditioning.”
Simon certainly has no difficulty with that.

Chen is a talented contact juggler and acrobat and is now on the panel of judges for busker auditions in Taiwan. His experience in Cirque du Soleil and the 100ft posters of him in every corner of the city promoting a tele-service company certainly helped his prestige in the field of circus. He was very kind, both answering my questions, then translating it all for me. We were also lucky to meet this year at the European Juggling Convention so I could get to know him a bit more and he could clarify his answers in person. Check out his fan page here : www.facebook.com/simonchen805

100ft Posters of Simon

Dawn: You were one of the judges of the Taipei Buskers audition this past weekend. How did you get to become one of the judges?

Chen: 老實說我也很意外他們會邀請我擔任評審,因為我實際做過街頭表演的經驗不多。




Actually, I was surprised that they invited me to become one of the judges of the Taipei Buskers audition, because I have very little experience doing a street show in Taiwan.

Maybe it’s because I am a teacher of Taiwan’s circus school, I care about the development of circus in Taiwan, and I posted many reviews about Taiwan’s circus development on public media platform. Or it’s because I am a professional performer and I have worked with Cirque du Soleil.

D: Who else was included on the panel of judges? (job titles)











Taiwan’s busker audition judges includes 2 government officials, one from ministry of culture the other one from the local government. 3 experts, 2 of them are professors who teach in art university. And 3 performers, one is theatre actor, one is a magician, and me.

D: What criteria do the judges use to see if a busker is allowed a license?





(這 一點我保持懷疑,因為看起來像是主管機關不喜歡你就可以拒絕您成為合格的表演者的秘密武器)

The criteria to obtain a license are:

  1. Performance context
  2. Costume and performing space arrangement
  3. Interaction with audience
  4. The judge’s’ subjective point of view

“The judge’s’ subjective point of view” is one that I have my doubts about – if a judge doesn’t like you and he can make you fail to become a qualified busker.

D: Was this a public audition or is it held behind closed doors?

C: 我們在戶外的場地進行甄選,除了評審打分數之外,現場的觀眾也可以進行投票(只是投票率不高)


The audition was public and was held outdoors. Audiences who walked by could vote the busker they like, but voting from audiences are passive. Based on the rules of the audition, every busker has only 2 minutes to present their performance. I think the time is definitely too short to let a judge to watch a complete show.

D: What types of performers showed up for this audition?

Magic, Acrobatics, Juggling, Statues, Break Dancing, Pole, Dance, and Live music.

D: How many buskers are actively licensed in Taipei right now?

C: 官方網站裡有資料的總共九百八十九位,但並不是每一個人拿到證照之後都會上街表演

In the official website there are 989 buskers registered. But in fact, not everyone who has the license would go on street to do performance.

Interview with Simon

D: Have you ever busked? If so, was it in Taipei or have you traveled also?

C: 年輕的時候很想成為街頭表演者,但是沒有足夠的信心。 現在又有太多的工作,所以我沒有什麼街頭表演的經驗。 台灣街頭藝人很少流動,當他們發現一個自己容易發揮的空間時,就會去那裡駐場。

When I was younger, I wanted to be a busker very much but I didn’t have confidence in myself. Now I have too much other work to do, so I don’t have much busking experience.

Taiwan’s buskers rarely move around, when they discovered a place that is suitable for them, they will usually go to the same spot.

D: I have wondered what the rules for busking are in are in Taipei, are you required to attend this audition to legally busk?

C: 政府認為街頭演出關係到公共安全,假設有意外發生會需要有人負責,所以需要透過甄選成為合格表演者,也方便政府管理。


Taiwan’s government assumed that busking on street related to public security issue. If there is any accident happened, then someone needs to take the responsibility. Therefore the busker needs to pass the audition and be registered, also it is easy for the government to manage them.

However, in my personal opinion, I think performing on the street is a freedom. As long as the busker is not causing any danger to public safety, everyone should have the right to perform on street. The audience should be the judges, not the government officials or other experts. The qualification to perform on street should be an application system not a selection system. Besides none will do stupid things such as taking a dangerous show and perform it on street.

D: What happens if you are caught busking without a license?

C: 如果在不是人們習慣看街頭演出的場地表演,引起注意或是妨礙交通的話,會被警察或是空間的保全趕走。台灣人不太習慣正常的作息被打擾,所以突然有街頭演出會被認為是干擾。



If buskers doing their performance in a place where performing is not allowed, they will be asked to leave by police or security. Taiwanese don’t like their daily life to be disrupted, so if there is a street show spontaneously, it will be considered as disturbing normal life.

D: Do the people of Taipei enjoy buskers?


Yes, people of Taipei enjoy buskers, and buskers are increasing in numbers in this decades. 10 years ago there were only few buskers in Taipei. However, now each spot has their star buskers. When the busker announce their performing schedule on their own fans page, the audience will come for them.

D: who was your have a favourite performer?

C:他的成 功讓許多人開始踏進街頭表演,也讓改變一般觀眾對街頭藝人=乞丐的印象,lssac可以說是提升街頭藝人形象的關鍵人物。35 years old,busker age 10 years,act 15min See Issac’s Facebook page here.

My favorite performer is Issac. Before Issac, people in Taiwan thought busking is equal to begging. Isaac is the key man to changed people’s stereotypes, and upgraded the image of buskers here.


在台北唯一一組以互動對作為演出內容主體的表演團體(台灣的街頭演出大 部分都是一個完整的act,重點是技巧展項沒有互動)他們表演現場聚集的觀眾人數應該是全台北最多的。

26 years old, street performing for 3 years,  30min act https://www.facebook.com/OnPYoung?fref=ts

The one and only busker group whose performance is based on interaction between performer and audience. (Most of Taiwan’s busker focus on the showing of technique.) They can gather big audiences, maybe the biggest in Taipei.

少見的藝術性yoyo表演,曾在台灣以外的國家(法國、德國)做過街頭演出也一樣成功。擅長經營粉絲專頁,公眾形象良好,電信業者甚至邀請他,用他個人努 力的故事來為電信品牌代言

onpyoung Busking Taipei

25 years old, street performing for 7 years, 20 minute act https://www.facebook.com/Mr.YoyoYang

We rarely see performances of yoyo. He has been to France and Germany to busk as he does well there and has good reputation. He is also a product endorser of a tele-service company.

Mr. Yoyo Yang

D: Do you feel the rules in Taipei are fair to the buskers?



I think it’s unfair, because most of the judges have some prejudice towards busking. They still think performance in theatres is better than performance on the street. Many of the judges don’t care about the development of busking. The opportunity of being a judge in a busker audition to them are just a job they’ll get once a year and a job which they can earn extra payment. Besides, different performer need different times for presenting their shows. But in the audition, the presenting time is limited, so judges can’t see a complete show of each performer.

D : If you were to change the rules, what would you want to change?

C: 我不覺得最重要的事情是改變法規。



I think the most important thing is the rules aren’t flexible enough to accommodate the variety of creativity in busking. The existence of the rules are to prevent any accident, such as unskilled flowing art of fire, stalls disguised in busker and any performance which could cause environmental problems.


I think every performer should work on their performance itself, to make the show worth watching and to make the audience feel the beauty of their performance. The rules are not a problem if we the performers respect what we present on street, and are willing to take responsibility for our work.



My point is, busking on street is a freedom, and I don’t think I need another person to decide whether I am qualified or not to busk on the street.



If we buskers respect ourselves then we don’t need government to manage us. But for now, Taiwan’s buskers and audience aren’t mature yet, so we need the system of busker auditions. However, the system itself has lack of manpower, so the audition is formalized.

D: What is the audition process?








  1. Fill the form of paper and send a link that they can watch your performance.
  2. Go through the paper evaluation.
  3. Presenting your performance. The judge will do the evaluation and decide who is qualified. And audience can join voting.
  4. Judge meeting,
  5. Announce the result.
  6. If the busker has concern about the result or question, the judges group will assign two judges to be the judge of reexamine and to explain the result of the audition.
  7. The busker who is qualified can get a life-long tenure license, and they have to renew the license every two years.

D: Thanks very much for answering all my questions – we hope the performers in Taipei have many heavy hats!


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Zarah Screen Shot

Zarah – Give One Year

I met Zarah on the steps of the cathedral at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Shortly after seeing her play for the first time, I purchased her album, because wow. What an incredible musician. You would never know that a ukulele could sound like this. She mixes classical music, Spanish guitar, blues, among many other unique skills with this tiny instrument.

Zarah is an intriguing character as she also has some deep philosophies about life. It has driven her to her new goal, which is what she calls a “homeless tour”. In this, she is walking from Edinburgh to London, and taking a full years time to donate instruments to homeless people and creatively inspire others along the way. From what I understand on her website, all of her albums sales goes to the kid ukulele club which donates ukuleles to children with chronic illness in hospitals.

I recommend you check out her music, her website and that you share her go fund me campaign.

Here are Zarah’s own words from the website www.theukuleletour.com/

There is a constant , that the majority of people will always chose convenience and greed over self sacrifice and compassion. People whom believe themselves to be good individuals will abandon all ethical standards in the name of loyalty.  I have created many fundraisers.. i have done charity tours.. and i am thankful to all whom supported these, but the fact remains… for the most part, convenience always wins.

and so i hereby say….


I will of course still advocate for my favorite non-profit organizations… but my days of asking others to help their fellow brothers and sisters is over..
I am currently paying off all my personal debts (they amount to less than £2000.. it wont take me too long) .. and then ALL , yes all my money … will go on buying inexpensive but playable musical instruments in bulk which i will give to those whom i believe can benefit from the healing power of creating music.  I will be homeless…. but i always have my music.. that is the currency i shall pass onto others to help. ..

The instruments will be mostly harmonicas and tin whistles (il be walking everywhere… giving away double basses and pianos is not so easy on foot).

I will not stop until the all streets are filled with the high pitched screechings of penny whistles… think of it as an auditory protest

You are free to join this mini-movement… but don’t dare offer me money… get out there and do it yourself … rely on no one to do it for you..

I know of only a handful of people whom would abandon their loyalties and comfort in order to devote their lives to helping others.  If only 500 of us out of over 6 billion can make this sacrifice… we can help those whom are forgotten..

​If non of you make the sacrifice……. i’l do it myself




Thank you Zarah, I am certain the effect you will have on others will be great. Good luck on your journey.

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Busker’s Holiday – New Novel about Busking

Busker's Holiday -EBook_1Busker’s Holiday – Noted blues scholar and harmonica player publishes first novel

Modern Blues Harmonica is pleased to announce the publication of Busker’s Holiday, a taut, sexy first novel about the summer busking scene in Europe and a pair of wild-hearted young men who make a pitch for fame and glory, finding a girl or two along the way.

Adam Gussow, the author, is an associate professor of English and Southern Studies at the University of Mississippi.  Gussow has published three previous books on the blues, including Mister Satan’s Apprentice (1998), an award-winning memoir about his years as a Harlem street musician.

Set in the late 1980s, Busker’s Holiday is the story of McKay Chernoff, a Columbia University grad student with a harmonica in his pocket and a blues band in his background.  Desolate and despairing after a disastrous romantic breakup, McKay decides to fly off to Paris and reinvent himself as a street performer.

What follows is an epic summer voyage into the busking life, propelled by the mad exploits of Billy Lee Grant, a fearless young guitar shredder whose Memphis-to-Mississippi pedigree and Dylanesque surrealism make him, when he explodes into view, precisely the partner McKay has been yearning for.

Burning like a latter-day Dean Moriarty, Bill goads McKay into a sun-drenched, all-night bender, stoked by wine, women, mushrooms, and trains, that careens down out of Avignon and across the French Riviera.  What happens next—in Florence, Solingen, Amsterdam, Paris—is a story of purgatory, redemption, and love regained.  Hope, in a word, as a modern troubadour returns from his wanderings, reborn.

For more information on Busker’s Holiday and a photo of the author as a reckless young street performer, visit the website:


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Banjo Player Morgan O’Kane

Morgan O'Kane in New York City
Morgan O’Kane in New York City

I have been waiting for this video to come out forever. There is a photo of Morgan O’Kane that has been floating around the Busking Project and all I knew was he was a wonderful sexy banjo player. Everything else was a mystery because I joined the project after this was filmed. Finally, it’s here. What I have now learned is that Morgan O’Kane is as soulful and talented as he is attractive. How powerful can one performer get? It’s hard to beat this kind of singing-drumming-banjo giv’r-everything-you-got kind of performance. This video is as satisfying as I had hoped it would be, and it’s been on repeat the whole time I wrote this post. Click the link, I know you want to.

“Everyone on my team fancies Morgan O’Kane”

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Find more info about Morgan O’Kane on his facebook page www.facebook.com/morganokanemusic/

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Washington Square Park Performers

These Washington Square Park Performers are wonderful lovable and they create a great atmosphere. This is one of the performances from the original Busking Project world tour with a great and participating crowd.

Colin Huggins on Piano and Michael David Gordon singing his heart out, these two performers create a lively night time performance. Visit Colin’s website for more information on these guys! http://colinhuggins.com

Colin Huggins and Michael David Gordon

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BuSK app coming soon!

BuSK app coming soon!
BuSK app coming soon!

The Busking Project has been working tirelessly on the development of a new iPhone app called BuSK. This application is to help you find, donate to and connect with street performers online with the simple click of your phone. Social media is changing the landscape of street theater, and we want to help buskers grow with technology. Busker-lovers will be able to find out when a performers next show is, come to the show, donate, buy the album or promotional video all with the new BuSK app!

BuSK app coming soon 1 Real Time DawnDreams Profile  coming soon 4

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The New Show Salon


Are you looking to update your performance skills? Have you been wondering what makes a show world class?

A new company founded by Julian Bell aka Ernest the Magnifico that is looking to coach new street performers into world class performance artists. This company has some of the best street performing talent involved including Ruben dot dot, Fraser Hooper, Kate Mior, David Cassel, Oli Pinchback and more!

The Show Salon asks: Is your act reaching it’s full potential?

The Show Salon is designed to help YOU on the journey of creating a great act. It’s for all types of buskers. Performance coaching can help you: Become a better performer. Learn better stage craft. Find out how to sell your act.

Our team of talented professionals can help you with all aspects of polishing your act. From web-design to costume-design and much much more.

Give your show a makeover!

For more info check out our website: www.the-show-salon.com or email: info@the-show-salon.com

Special opening price

To celebrate the launch of The Show Salon we are offering online coaching from now until Christmas for just $50 US per hour! Email: info@the-show-salon.com
Or find them on facebook: facebook.com/the.show.salon

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4 Police Officers who joined street performers

Often, it feels as if the police officers are against street performers, harassing them for no reason. But lately, there have been a handful of videos coming out where police from around the world have been enjoying, and even joining in on the street performer fun.


Here is a police officer from Vancouver, Canada who has obviously been in a marching band as a child.

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This Bobby from Birmingham joined in on a local drummer and his make-shift drum kit.

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My favorites of these videos are the officers who really break out their dance moves, like this New York cop.

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Or this Connecticut cop

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It’s nice to see the human side of police officers once and a while, reminding us that we are all trying to find ways to communicate and express ourselves. If The Busking Project has it’s way, we would have cops on our side like this all the time!

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