INTRODUCING… Fanti Acrobats

Audience participation is key to any performance by Ghanaian troupe, Fanti Acrobats.

The dance group rely on crowd energy to get them through physically demanding routines and  energy and strength are just two of the special ingredients that make the recipe of Fanti Acrobats so successful.

Down on the South Bank, they regularly entertain the huge crowds that pass along the Thames.

And on Bank Holiday Monday, they caught my attention when I saw man standing on someone’s head – literally!

With their love for colourful Kente cloth, Fanti Acrobats (the name ‘Fanti’ is a dialect spoken in the south-western region of Ghana)

Moving along to Ghanaian ‘HiLife’ music, the leader of the troupe instructs the crowd to “clap if you like it, and if you don’t, still clap”.

The leader of the troupe, Edwin Kobina Yankah, warms up by spinning a metal pan on his index finger then balancing a stool on his head.

According to Edwin, “it’s all about control”.

He said: “This is like training for us. We can’t be afraid. We spent a lot of time touring, doing corporate gigs and performing at private events, festivals and shows. We use this time to train our bodies. It’s like a warm up.”

Edwin says he got involved in gymnastics when he was “very very young”, growing up in Accra, Ghana’s capital.

The group was founded in 1996 and the troupe of eight are trained in various disciplines. For example, acrobatic, gymnastics, limbo, fire eating and contortion.

They’ve been performing on the South Bank for the last seven years and Edwin says the energy and crowd enthusiasm encourages them to work extra hard to put on a great show.

But with the show being so fast-paced and the troupe doing backflips on the pavement, have they ever had any slip ups or accidents on while performing?

“Only a few, but nothing too serious,” says Edwin, “a few bruised bones but we make sure we practice like mad. The crowd don’t want to see blood and gore!”

A show can last between 15 and 30 minutes and the dancers are careful not to strain their bodies or tire out too quickly so they try to limit themselves to four shows a day.

While they decline to share how much they can make in a street performance show, Edwin says the crowds “give us whatever they can, and for that we are very thankful”.

–Words and Video by David Woode

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Interview with Eloise Blackburn

Here at Street’s Got Talent, we promised to showcase the best street performers in London and Eloise Blackburn is no exception.

Originally from Manchester, she has busked for several years and regards Covent Garden as the most competitive spot in London – better for performers rather than singers.

As well as singing, she also plays the saxophone and once, while busking in Notting Hill, megastar Paloma Faith told her she had a great voice!

Have a listen to the Interview and be sure to Tweet us with more questions, as the next segment of the interview will consist of questions from our readers.

- Rebecca Lloyd

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Guest Post- Ben William’s 10 busking tips

Ben Williams graduated from the University of Salford in 2005 with a first class honours degree in Popular Music and Recording and has forged a career as a musician and songwriter. After leaving university Ben joined forces with Kristyna Myles and won Radio 5 Live’s Busk Idol competition, after busking on Market Street in Manchester for two years. This led to appearances on BBC1, ITV, Radio 2, Radio 4 and many regional radio stations including BBC Manchester, as well as being featured in The Manchester Evening News and various other publications.

Kristyna has now signed a 5 album deal with Decca, and Ben and Kristyna are going busking once again to raise awareness of the charity Centrepoint, and promote Kristyna’s album Pinch Me Quick due for release in September. (Read our post about Kristyna’s busking tour here) 

My top 10 tips

1.  There’s no point in busking without amplification. –  Unless you’re playing a saxophone or another instrument with a lot of natural volume, it can be very difficult to be heard in a busy city. When we first started out Kristyna and I tried busking unamplified in the Manchester Christmas Markets and couldn’t be heard from just a few feet away. We barely made enough money to cover the parking.

2. Get a car battery- Although you can get some battery powered amplifiers, most of these seem to run out of power quickly and sound distorted. We used a car battery attached to an inverter, which converts DC to AC. The best type of car battery is a gel leisure battery which are used for golf buggies etc. If you use a normal car battery the acid will soon burn little holes in all of your clothes. For an amplifier, I can’t recommend the Roland AC30 highly enough. It has two channels, one for a guitar and one for a microphone.

3.Other useful gear- A compact camping stool means that you can sit anywhere and don’t need to rely on finding a bench. A trolley is important for carting all the gear around as it can weigh quite a lot. A battery charger for obvious reasons. If you’re planning on reading music, take some pegs so that the wind doesn’t blow it away. Fingerless gloves can help with guitar playing in icy conditions. A bag to store the money in afterwards can be useful.

4. Two’s company- Busking on your own has the advantage that you don’t have to split the money. But if you go with two or more people it means one person can watch the gear while the other can buy food/drinks and take a toilet break, especially if you’re making a day of it. It also makes you less vulnerable if there are more of you.

5. Be safe- Keep all your gear where you can see it. Empty the money out of the guitar case every now and again and hide it away. Busking at night can be more intimidating as people have had a few drinks and can be a bit ‘lively’. We never had anything too serious happen to us. Kids threw sweets at our heads. Someone crept up to me and shouted ‘BOO’ in my ear which made me jump out of my skin, much to the amusement of the crowd that had built up. Occasionally people would make as if they were putting money in but actually slyly take money out. But generally the good outweighs the bad. And if you’re busking in a busy town centre there will be a lot of people around if anything serious does happen.

6. Licence- Different towns have different rules. They are much stricter about licences in London than they are in Manchester for example. It’s worth doing a bit of research before you start in a new town. Some places have the rule that you can busk but without amplification. I tried to get a licence for Manchester once but after a whole afternoon of phone calls I still hadn’t managed to speak to anyone who knew what they were talking about. We busked for two years and were never asked for a licence. Occasionally a shop would complain if we were too loud and they couldn’t hear what their customers were saying, or an office would complain on weekdays if we were putting their employees off work and we would be asked to turn down or move on. But very rarely.

7. Sell CD’s- If you have a CD to sell this can enhance your income significantly. It can also help to have a person to sell CDs for you and talk to people while you’re busy playing.

8. Respect other buskers- Generally the rule is first come first served. If you find someone playing where you had intended to busk, you won’t become very popular if you set up next to them and drown them out. Have a word with them and see how long they’re planning to busk for or look for another spot.

9. Repertoire- If people passing by hear a tune they know, they may be more likely to throw some money in the case. But busking is also a good place to try out new songs as the reaction from the public is immediate and you can quickly learn what’s working and what isn’t. Busking is a great way to develop quickly as a musician and as an artist.

10. Go for it- If you’re busking for the first time it can feel strange to just start singing in the middle of a busy town. You just have to go for it. Lots of great artists have kicked off their careers by busking- Bob Dylan, Kt Tunstall etc. In a busy city, so many people walk by that you never know who might see you or what might happen .

Photos: provided by Ben Williams

Visit Ben’s website!

- Emma Spedding

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The Fabulous Whelk Brothers play in the Olympics

Back in January we introduced you to the Fabulous Whelk Brothers and we are very pleased to let you know that last week they were selected to perform on the streets of Greenwich in the Olympics. Here we speak to them about the auditioning process….

1) What was the audition like to play in the Olympics?

It was a bit strange for us to play in front of four people judging us. We often have people judge us but not in such an overt way. They had asked for all the participants to prepare two five minute sets, one to play and one for back up in case they needed to hear more. The organisers also asked for the acts to be “suitable for families and audiences of all cultural backgrounds”. We had decided to play the old music hall song ‘Any Old Iron’ because it is very English and it features yours truly on spoons. We thought that the performance would make us different from other performers. At this point I should point out that we didn’t really see any other performers, except for a woman sitting with a harp (classical, not blues) so we had no idea what the competition was like. The judges seemed to enjoy the performance and we weren’t asked to do our back up set. All in all it took about five minutes.

2) When did you audition?

Here is a time-line for the whole process:
27th January – applied via their website
8th March – Invitation to audition
10th April – Audition
1st May – email to tell us we had been successful and to wait for scheduling information

4) Why did you decide to play in the Olympics?

We have been extremely disappointed in the lack of opportunities for street musicians at the Olympics. We talked to our councillor about this and the reply we got back from Tower Hamlets council was that ‘they had no plans’ for street entertainment. When we heard about Greenwich actually wanting to put street entertainment on we felt we had to go for it. We think it is important that visitors from overseas get to see some indigenous acts as well as the corporate super-stars who are being flown in at great expense to the tax payer.

5) Are you preparing any special songs for the Olympics?

We don’t need to, as our act contains lots of east-end London songs anyway. The tourists that we play to on a weekly basis seem to love seeing us and taking photos with us. Although my brother Ron has suggested we learn ‘Horse With No Name’ due to the equestrian events being in Greenwich.

At this point I should add that we still have no idea what the organisers have in mind, how this will work, or, in fact, any details. Having said that, we are more than pleased to be involved and look forward to entertaining visitors, however and whenever, we are asked.

Are you busking in the Olympics? Auditioned but didn’t get through? We’d love to hear about your experience! Tweet us!

Photo provided by The Fabulous Whelk Brothers

- Emma Spedding

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INTRODUCING: Oded Kafri

Wander around central London and you’re sure to hear the syncopated beats and offset rhythms of drummers showcasing their talents.

Be it on professional drum kits or up-turned buckets, these often charismatic musicians are armed with a set of drumsticks and determined to put on a show.

On Bank Holiday Monday, I discovered Oded Kafri drawing in the crowds on Oxford Street, W1.

Taking a break from shuffling in and out of high street stores, a sizeable crowd of around 50 people stopped to witness Kafri’s energetic and entertaining performance.

Over the hip hop beats of Missy Elliott and 50 Cent, to traditional classical music and afro-latin beats, Kafri took control of the drum kit and wowed the audience with his frantic, offbeat and entertaining show.

From throwing his sticks into the air to singing funny little couplets, to leaving the drum kit and banging any surface he could find, he certainly had the crowd in the palm of his hand…

Afterwards, I caught up with Kafri and he told me how he was born in Tel Aviv, Israel and first picked up the drumsticks at 10 years old.

When I asked if he is self-taught, he said no, “teachers, teachers, you never stop learning and I learned from the best teachers”.

He credits his favoured drumming styles (jazz/funk/afro) to his time spent in Paris. He moved there at the age of 16 and was introduced to a new way of performing. Kafri said his style is derived from “knowing the beat” and being able to “play several style of music very sensitively”.

Kafri has been busking for only two years in London. Before that, he worked as a session musician in his native country for twenty five years and toured the globe.

“I’ve played all around the world; Africa, Japan, America, the UK… probably the only part I’m missing is India and South America.

“I picked up so much from my travels, from the different cultures and how music is played and received… it’s all influenced my style of performance.”

Kafri said he was between gigs when he decided to busk in central London, and said the “love from the audience makes me want to come back more”.

“I’m here on Bank holiday because you don’t need a permit”, says Kafri, “I’m not sure why this is in Westminster but the crowds here are fantastic.”

–Words and Video by David Woode

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First time busker? No problem!

It’s a daunting prospect performing in public for the first time. You’ve got no idea what the reception is going to be like, if an audience is guaranteed or even what the weather is going to be like (and that’s one thing that will never change!)

With London being primed for the world stage this summer, there’s going to be a rush of people wanting to get involved and show the thousands of people flocking to the capital the talent that lies in the city.

Like the Scouts, it’s better to ‘be prepared’ and well clued up on your surroundings. This will be key to successfully showing the world (or at least a pocket of zone one) what you’re all about.

-AMPLIFY: Planning to perform at a busy London Underground station and want to wow commuters from the perfect? Or is a Sunday afternoon busking at a tourist hotspot more your thing?
Remember, the busier your surroundings then the less distance your sound will travel and you’ll be drowned out by the crowds.
Small busking amps cost around £50 and it’s best to buy one that’s portable and can be operated by a mains plug and rechargeable batteries.

-PROMOTE: Flyers and business cards are a great way to increase your audience interactivity. If you’ve got a Sound Cloud, YouTube, Facebook page or MySpace profile, link to them because it’s a great way for the audience and passers-by to interact and learn more about you.

-THE ELEMENTS: I’ve alluded to it but we all know how unpredictable and –sometimes infuriating – the weather can be, so it’s always best to be one step ahead. In the summer, sun cream will save you from being burnt if you’re performing for long stints in the sun. The underground tends to become hot during peak hours, but it’s wise to bring a jacket with you if you’re busking in the evening because tube stations tend be become a little chilly.

If you’re performing outside during the winter, wearing thermals will prevent your muscles from seizing up in the cold. And if you’re playing an instrument, wearing fingerless gloves will allow you to play for longer.

-PERMIT?: If you’re planning to entertain the crowds in Covent Garden, you’ll need to obtain a permit. Auditions are held for performance spots in the area every other month, so log on to the Covent Garden London website to find out more.

–David Woode

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Busking in Covent Garden – EXPLAINED

Covent Garden isn’t only the best place for busking in London, but arguably in the world. Street performers first started entertaining on the streets of Covent Garden in the 1600s, but it became as it is today in the late 1970s when the covered fruit and vegetable market was transformed into a tourist site.

Many of the performers make the majority of their money working nowhere else and you require a special permit to work at Covent Garden.

See the spots where buskers perform in Covent Garden in our map below. Click on the pin points to see pictures of regular buskers in each spot.

Step inside our map with our video below!

8 Things to know about busking in Covent Garden

1. Every performer must have liability insurance and pass an audition to busk in Covent Garden

2. Auditions aren’t held on weekends when the biggest shows are around, but the auditionee needs to attract a large crowd to gain a permit.

3. Variety acts can perform in the indoor or the outdoor pitch.

4. Slots on the indoor pitch are scheduled every Monday for the following week. You are allowed four 30 minute shows over that week, which are between 10am and 8pm.

5. The list of people chosen for the indoor pitch is picked from out of a hat.

6. Slots on the outdoor pitch are scheduled every morning on the day of the performance, as you have to have your name in the draw list by 8.15am.

7. Time slots for the outdoor pitch are 40 minutes long and shows start from 10am and go as late as 9pm in summer months or until 3.30pm in winter.

8. The next scheduled auditions are on 25th June 2012, 24th September 2012 and Monday 7th January 2013. Find out more about auditions here.

Words and Photos: Emma Spedding

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