27 Sep 2023 A nation’s culture resides in the hearts and souls of its people, and as Nelson Mandela once said, ‘Our rich and varied cultural heritage has a profound power to help build our nation.’ We couldn’t agree more. Busking has a long history stretching back to our earliest societies. From lyrical contests on the streets of ancient Rome to organ grinders, hurdy-gurdies and court jesters, buskers have been performing in public spaces for at least as long as there have been public spaces. Indeed, busking is a compelling expression of the human spirit and a viable, honourable, and traditional way of making a living. Buskers have played a crucial role in bringing public spaces to life throughout the V&A Waterfront. On a deeper level, an experiential medium such as busking also leaves longstanding memories with audiences. It has enormous potential to create meaning and connection across communities and cultures, which is a core value of our business and why we’ve considered busking an integral part of the V&A Waterfront right from the get-go. From mime artists and soccer freestylers to the lkamva Marimba Band, the Kaapse Klopse and more, we’ve welcomed hundreds of culturally diverse musicians and performers throughout the neighbourhood for well over 30 years now. Legendary musicians such as Abie Thomas and Solly Petersen have pioneered the local industry and made a name for themselves across the V&A Waterfront; in fact, Abie is memorialised in a little plaque at his old haunt below the kids’ playground next to the Amphitheatre. Uncle Solly delighted audiences for years. After his death, he inspired us to create social mobility for performers, all of whom contribute so much to the vitality of our neighbourhood. We’ve experienced firsthand how buskers change how people react to and perceive a space – how relatively impersonal spaces are transformed into places imbued with identity and meaning – and how vital it is to support, nurture and promote the people who make this happen. This realisation inspired the creation of our Buskers Programme. It took its lead from the efforts of cities such as London, New York and Vancouver, where local entities manage busking programmes. In fact, the V&A Waterfront was the first in South Africa to put a formal ecosystem into place where our buskers could easily access information, develop essential business skills, and connect with like-minded creatives, markets and industry leaders. So, what does the Buskers Programme actually look like? It has evolved from its inception with the hundreds of performers we’ve hosted since 1992, but the process begins with online applications. Performers are then selected after undergoing a rigorous audition process, which now happens every year in March (keep your eyes on our social media!). Performances are then scheduled and rostered according to various performing sites to ensure an equitable balance between public spaces, retail requirements, and pedestrian foot traffic. Revenue is earned through public gratuities. Along with a public platform, our buskers also participate in a comprehensive mentorship programme. Its purpose is to support, develop, and upskill every one of our buskers via onsite monthly coaching workshops where participants learn everything about managing themselves, from drawing up business plans to financial best practices and even social media etiquette. Bursary options are also available for further study, career development, recordings or travels, and we’ve put an accelerated programme into place that each year offers buskers on the cusp of success access to external industry experts who provide mentorship on anything from songwriting skills to making the most of studio time. ‘We have built the programme to be a first of its kind, and some great success stories are that of Micaela Kleinsmith and Reinhard Buhr, who garners millions of views on his YouTube platform and has distinguished himself as a global performer. He still comes back every summer to play the streets of The V&A,’ says Henry Mathys, Programme Manager: Social Inclusion and Placemaking at the V&A Waterfront. Meet Reinhardt Buhr Reinhardt Buhr is a multi-instrumentalist who combines the sounds of the Spanish guitar, the electric guitar, the Australian didgeridoo, the electric cello, the Israeli Shofar, a synthesiser, percussion and vocals – and more! He started busking at the V&A Waterfront in 2014. Busking is unpredictable and always different, and that keeps it interesting. Busking has grown tremendously since I started here, and the V&A always creates opportunities for upcoming artists to showcase their talents. The best part about busking is sharing my passion with people worldwide and seeing how music breaks down the walls we put up around ourselves. Busking is a humbling experience and can be challenging sometimes, but it’s worth it. You have to throw your expectations out the window and just play. If you enjoy what you do, the crowd will too. Meet Micaela Kleinsmith Micaela Kleinsmith, one of the most talented artists from the V&A Busker programme, was named the winner of Apple TV+’s My Kind of Country competition, produced by Reese Witherspoon. It occurred in New York earlier this year, and the V&A contributed to her expenses. I’ve been busking at the V&A Waterfront since 2016. The busking culture appealed to me; it’s much better than many other busking platforms, and the programme and its coordinators do an excellent job taking care of the buskers. They have created a friendly environment for busking, which attracts people from all over looking to perform there and also promotes busking in its own right. The best part about busking is meeting new people and being able to perform for new audiences every day. It’s amazing. The people and opportunities that come from just interacting with people who enjoy what you do are unparalleled. Busking can be tricky sometimes, especially in the beginning. The finding-your-feet process can be discouraging, but pushing through and consistently working to improve your craft and grow will lead to success in many ways. What I’ve gained not only financially in some of the most challenging times but as a person and artist, I don’t think I would have gotten had I not started busking. Consistency and perseverance will lead to a rewarding experience. Just start and keep pushing. Next is writing and recording with amazing people I admire and working on my projects and others. Lots of exciting stuff is coming up, and I am ready for it!