Published: 06:00, 04 August 2021
A short trip to one of Kent’s busy city centres sees street performers at most corners.
Walking down the cobblestone streets of Canterbury you are transported at every turn - to the heat of the Caribbean with soulful Reggae, then back to the 1950s with 'The Chordettes' echoing through a vintage microphone, and then deep into a New York Jazz bar with saxophone medleys.
This background ambience for shoppers and tourists isn’t new, with busking becoming a comfort for performers sharing their art.
However, like everything, it has most certainly changed dramatically over the last year.
During lockdown, busking had its limitations - in most areas buskers could perform as long as a crowd wasn’t formed and social distancing remained in place.
But, this seemed futile to many performers as shops and restaurants closed, leaving Kent’s high streets deserted.
With ‘Freedom Day’ lifting all of these restrictions last month, many street performers are now returning to entertain the crowds and hopefully earn a living.
One of those setting up pitch in Canterbury was Sinini Spencer Ngwenya and his brother Kenny.
Under the shadowed doorway outside Poundworld Plus, but perfectly situated opposite the Visitor Information Centre, the duo prepared for their first set of the day.
Armed with two guitars and a harmonica, the Ngwenya brothers were optimistic for a busy day sharing their heritage through classic reggae covers.
Sinini moved to England in August 2020, joining his brother who now lives in Sittingbourne.
Inspired by the likes of Bob Marley, Lucky Dube and Peter Tosh, they say the people of Canterbury are always responsive to their music.
The Ngwenya brothers perform for shoppers in Canterbury
He said: “They dance along in the streets. We’ve had nothing but positive comments and it’s nice because we love doing this and if people appreciate it then it’s a win win situation.
“I’ve done some recordings but they never sell online, I don’t know why… I’ve sold more CDs from the people who see me on the streets.”
But busking hasn’t always been on the cards for the pair. The pandemic cancelled many of their concerts and gigs, forcing them to set up in the streets as a way of earning money.
He added: “Now that I’ve started busking, I feel I’ve put myself in this spot which can be difficult and lonely on the streets.
“I didn’t grow up in a well-off background but music has always been an opportunity for us to do things - we came here through music.”
Despite being one of the busiest cities in the county to perform, the guitar case placed on the floor remained fairly bare.
Although Sinini feels that he and his brother are providing a “service” he believes more support should be made available.
He laughs: “I think buskers are looked down on, even I will admit when I had shows and concerts I used to look down on buskers.
“Now that I’m doing it I’ve realised it’s a good service - I think the government should be paying the buskers to do it.”
Perhaps one of the biggest downfalls to busking post-pandemic is the simple fact that most people don’t carry cash.
Many restaurants and shops have made the transition to cashless payments in an attempt to minimise the risk of spreading Covid-19.
But could this be having a knock on effect on those who rely on our loose change?
Annie Majin, 18, and 24-year-old Geary Allen were pitched just around the corner from the Ngwenya brothers.
Annie joked that they did mean to bring out their cashless payment machine but forgot it. Instead, a hoodie on the floor weighed down by a handbag was their method of collecting spare coins.
Talking about cashless busking she said: “I’ve seen a lot of people doing it in London - it’s whether people actually go and do it and take the time out of their day… if they’re nice then maybe?”
However, the more experienced Geary Allen has been busking in Canterbury for 12 years and is certain that it is one of the best places in the country to perform.
He said: "We’re here because we need money. That’s the first reason.
"I’ve tried busking in London a lot because I’ve been living up there but I never do as well as I do down here.
"I don’t really know of many places better to busk than Canterbury."
Annie added: "I think because of the tourist attractions it’s a good place. At the moment because of Covid there are not as many tourists but they’re usually really into it."
The duo performed a vintage set to shoppers on The Parade in Canterbury
Tuning his guitar ahead of their jazz inspired set, he explained how it was one of his first times back out since restrictions were lifted.
He continued: "It’s been better than I expected it to be since the pandemic to be honest, but I haven’t really properly been out how I used to come out so I can’t really say for sure how good it’s going to be...but it’s not been terrible."
The double act are newly formed and hoping to break into the music industry by building a brand and social media following.
Annie adds: "I would love to do Broadway shows eventually, I love musical theatre.
"I was born to sing."
Although a bit more sceptical to the idea of musical fame, Geary added: "To make a living playing music is the ideal dream but it’s not very difficult to claim that dream.
"You can play as well as you want but if you’re not good at promoting yourself you’re not going to get anywhere, you can’t just rely on your talent really."
However, a Kent busker hoping to catapult to stardom using online promotion is 24-year-old Jordan Ravenhill.
But, he's not planning on sticking around for much longer, with a new single 'Become the Better Person' set to debut on Friday, August 20 - the single he hopes will take him from the pavement to sold-out arena shows.
Jordan wants to become a role model for younger generations in Chatham
He sighed: "If this doesn't get me noticed, to be honest I don't know what will."
Jordan explained how he wants to become a role model for young people - he didn't have the best academic ability in school but hopes to prove he can still become a success.
He said: "Yesterday I had a little kid come up to me with his little Ukulele… hopefully I can inspire other kids or people to do well.
"Chatham is obviously not the most wealthy area but if people enjoy what you’re doing then they put the money in - that’s how life rolls.
"If you work hard then you do well."
Recently, one of Jordan's videos on Facebook reached more than 17,000 views. He can be seen singing an Ed Sheeran and Lewis Capaldi remix, and by his side was friend June Buckingham performing the sign language equivalent to the crowd.
Jordan explained: "I want to bring different things into the music and I feel like we don’t appreciate stuff like that.
"When you see deaf people signing along that’s cool to see.
"It’s so lovely to watch when my friend has the reception from other people and they’re signing with her, I think it’s awesome."
Meanwhile, Mayowa Oyinloye is also striving for more than musical success whilst busking in Gillingham.
Every week Mayowa, also known as MJPraise, can be seen singing and interacting with the crowd in the high street.
However, her aim is very different to most other buskers - placing a sign saying 'No Donations Needed' by her microphone stand.
She said: "I don't want to take away from the message so the only donation I ask is for people to be kind and loving to the next person.
"Sometimes when I'm singing people come up to me and they talk to me and some of them I feel as if they are friends and they just pour their heart out to me.
"It means a lot to just be there for somebody."
Mayowa has become a familiar face on Gillingham high street
Through building connections on the high street, Mayowa has now created an annual summer concert in the exact spot she usually performs.
The Let Loose concert was held on Friday 30th July, to raise awareness for victims of abuse through music. From building her own platform through selfless busking, she now hopes to provide other young performers with an opportunity to take centre stage at the event.
She said: "It's just to give hope to victims of abuse because it's something I suffered as a child at the hands of various men, so I know how easy it is to derail from the path.
"My hope for this is to build a foundation, to have a one-on-one with victims and survivors of abuse.
"There is hope. Look at me, I've made it through and so can they."