I go to the movie and I go downtown
Somebody keep tellin’ me don’t hang around
It’s been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will
Sam Cooke – A Change Is Gonna Come
Semi-autobiographical in nature, Danusia Samal’s Busking It is inspired by the 10 years she spent as a London Underground busker. As you might expect, music plays an integral part of the show, with classic songs sung alongside melodies she wrote herself. Accompanying her are Joe Archer on guitar and Adam Cross on keyboards.
A child of dual heritage (Kurdish father and Polish mother), Samal has grown up in London with a cosmopolitan attitude to people and a deep love of music. Unlike her peers, she didn’t have contemporary music playing at home – listening instead to jazz, and music from the 1950’s and ’60s. In her own words, her childhood father figure (“sort of Dad”) was instrumental in facilitating her love of the ‘standards’ and his hopeful, positive attitude was something she cherished – epitomised by Sam Cooke’s A Change Is Gonna Come. However, as someone who had the constant threat of deportation hanging over his head, even his upbeat mindset couldn’t be maintained indefinitely. His departure – precipitated by Samal’s ‘rejection’ of him during his ‘low’ period – weighs heavily upon her, as hindsight and maturity bring a different perspective to one’s actions.
Looking for a way to earn some money, Samal’s encouraged to consider busking, as all who know her know she has a talent for singing. What Samal hasn’t counted on is the dormant feelings that resurface when certain songs are sung and how other people will change her outlook on life while busking…
Samal talks at length about the different sorts of characters that walk past her and of those who talk to her directly – often to say something disparaging or worse. Some of them think busking is only one rung away from begging.
One such ‘altercation’ proves to be life-changing. To Samal’s rescue is a homeless former boxer who can’t pass by a person in need. In many ways he’s like a character in Ralph McTell’s Streets of London – lonely and slipped through the cracks of society. Life on the streets has taken its toll on him, but much like the titular protagonist in Shrek, he’s the ‘hero’ Samal needs, not the Prince Charming she hopes for – though he does come later… The boxer’s legacy is to remind her that there are many ‘kings’ out there . But because of circumstances beyond their control, their strength wavers and they ‘fall’ – much like her “sort-of Dad”…
The other person who has a profound impact on Samal’s life is a woman she would later call “Experience”. Supposedly suffering from amnesia, the women pesters Samal to use her her microphone and sing. Experience’s ‘vocal delivery’ is something to be desired, but something amazing happens. The people who for months had ignored Samal not only stop to listen, they drop copious amount of money at her feet. And all because Experience is ‘singing’ about what she feels and in doing so makes a connection with others’ lives.
Life seems to have turned a corner for Samal, with many good things happening for her, including a new boyfriend. But as he tries to help Samal establish a ‘proper’ musical career, busking seems less of a priority, leaving Experience to challenge her about ‘disengaging from people’….
In a way, Samal in the show is like the adult version of Bryony Tallis in Ian McEwan’s Atonement in that Busking It chronicles her questionable choices from the past without embellishment. But if some ‘licence’ has been used to give certain events a ‘happy ending’, there’s enough misery and injustice in the world to justify the occasional ‘silver lining’.
There’s a candour in Busking It that acknowledges the reasons that we as people ‘justifiy’ living within our own private worlds and not enagaging with others. “Cities are dangerous… We have our own problems… Nobody else would understand.” Busking It shows music is the universal conduit that breaks downs the walls of solipsism. It can raise people’s expectations of life, lift their horizons. And far from just being about romance, music can be deeply meaningful and connect with others in a way that none of the other Arts can.
© Michael Davis 2018
Busking It ran at the HighTide Walthamstow Festival on 21st and 23rd September.
It will also run at Shoreditch Town Hall from 9th – 20th October (8:00pm)