Jeff Ng, The Cathay Busker Who Went Viral, Realised He Loved Singing When He Worked As A Waiter In A Café
The 32-year-old, whose popularity skyrocketed after going viral on TikTok, now plans to hold a real concert in August.
If you've been on Tiktok or Instagram recently, you'd probably have been wowed by a Singaporean busker who managed to draw massive crowds for his weekly performances — or should we say concerts? — outside The Cathay.
And trust us when we say the crowds are only going to get bigger.
So who is this busker?
Well, he's 32-year-old musician Jeff Ng, who's actually been performing for 14 years now.
When 8days.sg spoke to the Montfort Secondary School alum about his newfound success, he revealed that he didn't enjoy singing when he was younger.
His first love, Jeff says, was actually basketball.
That is until he got inspired by his teacher who also sang at a music cafe at night.
Fast forward a decade-and-a-half later, Jeff is now a wildly successful busker, perhaps even Singapore's top busker?
His performances outside The Cathay has attracted some 2000 people waving their lit up handphones to his every note, like they're at a concert at the Singapore Indoor Stadium.
To think he only started performing at The Cathay every Saturday (from 7.30pm to 10pm FYI) just six weeks ago.
Jeff, who studied digital media at Nanyang Polytechnic, also occasionally performs with his busking partner Leon Lim at Marina Bay on Wednesdays. Yes, that Leon Lim who came in second in MasterChef Singapore Season 2 and was also an SPOP Sing! semifinalist. Leon now helps Jeff with his media enquiries.
Since those TikToks of him went viral, Jeff, who is also a freelance music teacher, has gained more than 20K followers on Instagram along with mainstream fame he never expected.
"I think this is really a dream come true, and I'm very contented. I'm very happy," he says.
8DAYS: How do you feel when someone calls you Singapore's top busker now?
JEFF NG: The thing about being called that... I feel quite shy about it. I think it's just a matter of luck. Luck as well as consistency.
For example, at the start of May, I managed to book all the Saturday time slots at The Cathay for May and June. I think performing on the same day and same time every week, allowed the audience to know when exactly I would be there.
Also, the two-and-a-half hours of non-stop performing helps. I just read a DM from a fan which made me really happy. She thanked me for the wonderful music last week which she enjoyed with her family. She also said she was really impressed by how I didn't drink a sip of water the whole time I was performing.
I didn't stop to drink water 'cos I want to fulfil as many song requests as possible, so her message made me very happy because I don't think many people realised that.
Were you expecting the crowd to grow this big?
It took about six weeks for the crowd to grow to this size, and it's shocking to me as well. Some of my friends did a live feed at 6pm [before the busking session started at 7.30pm] and we saw that the staircase “seats” were all taken.
They joked that [it looked like] those concert venues where there are CAT A, B, C, D, E seats. (laughs) [My friends] said that they're sitting at "CAT B" and that "CAT E" was filling up at that point. (laughs) By 6.30pm [the venue] was filled.
I initially told my team that by December, I want to be able to gather a crowd that forms a circle around the entire area. That was my target. Then my crew member told me I don't have to wait till the end of the year anymore (laughs).
[It's why] last Saturday I was really happy, and I really thank everyone who showed me their support as well as my team for helping me. Everything was so surreal, I never thought that this would happen.
How did you discover your love for music?
In Sec 4, my school decided that instead of the recorder, we would learn the keyboard instead during music lessons. That was when I started.
Then, Ark Music School organised a Chinese singing competition in my school and I joined with my friend for fun (laughs). The prize was a trophy and three months of free music lessons [with Ark].
In the end my friend came in second and I came in first so we went to there to learn the keyboard together.
How did you start singing then?
We later found out that our teacher was working part-time at a cafe. He said he's a teacher in the day but at night, he's a singer. That really inspired me. Then I asked for a part time job as a waiter at that cafe since I was waiting for Poly to start.
And when I was working there, I realised how much I love singing because when I was making the drinks, I would always sing along to whoever's performing [on stage]. (Laughs)
When I turned 18, I auditioned [to sing] at that cafe and I got the job. Then I learnt to play and sing when I was 19.
Do a lot of people say you sound like JJ Lin?
Yeah, they do. When I was younger, I subconsciously imitated JJ Lin and Jay Chou's singing styles because I really like them. That's why I still slur a little. [Ed: Jay is known for not articulating his words when he sings]
I've been singing for 14 years, but for the first 10 years I was slurring [like Jay]. It was only after I became a music instructor that [my pronunciation] became clearer.
Are you planning on throwing an actual concert?
Definitely. I'll probably have a concert in August but details are not confirmed yet. I've also been approached by some record labels, both local and overseas!
Will you stop busking then?
I will not want to give up busking. Even now I'll always discuss with my team, whether I can reschedule a job because I have to perform at The Cathay, or whether I can sing [somewhere else] at an earlier time so I can be at The Cathay after that.
How did you start busking?
It started at [the now-defunct] Chinatown Food Street. In 2018, the Chinatown Food Street Organisation and Singapore Tourism Board invited me to sing at a busking event. We tried it out for two months where I performed there every week, then it became a two-year thing.
Prior to that I was a bar singer and I would also perform at weddings and corporate events.
So how much do make from busking in a month?
I wont say the amount but for me, I don't put up a QR code for people to scan [and transfer me money] when I'm busking. There's only a box for tips. I always say that if people want to give, they will. And I don't mind how much they give, even if it's just 50 cents.
I believe that when people donate, be it a dollar or two, they're making me a part of their lives. To me that's more than enough 'cos they're not obliged to give me anything and yet they do. That means they really appreciate my efforts.
Would you recommend busking for a living?
I wouldn't. Not because of the money but because of how unpredictable the working conditions can be. For example, you’ll never know when it's going to rain. The conditions of where you're working at are not a sure thing and can't be controlled.
I think it's okay if you're doing it part-time. Like if you're a music teacher [like me] and you busk on the side. However, there's no right or wrong. For those who do it full-time, I do respect their passion in life.
Are your parents supportive of you busking?
Yes they are. They run a shop selling prayer offerings and they work very hard. Even though they don't earn much, they have been very supportive of my career.
They don't ask much from me because they know that I got where I am with my own hard work. They always tell me, they might not have made enough [money] to be able to fund my dreams, but they're very glad to see me striving for it myself.
Are they into music too?
Oh, they like to sing Hokkien songs! (Laughs) They always to go karaoke and fight for the microphones with their friends or my aunties and uncles. (Chuckles)
Main pic credit: Jeff Ng/ Instagram & sammi159