Journeyman musician Ayawan – the pied piper who dances to his own tune

It was the most significant decision of his life, but street musician Ayawan Musafir Singgah has never regretted it.

Leaving a well-paying job to be a street musician may seem drastic, but he could not be happier.

Born Shaharizuan Sahrie, Ayawan chose his stage name as it means ‘son of nature’.

“Everyone knows me as Ayawan Musafir Singgah. All my social media accounts are under this name,” said the 56-year-old father of eight, and granddad of two.

“Music comes from nature. I am one with nature, and all my instruments are from nature.

“No one taught me how to play the flute. It came naturally.

“When I was 17, my brother-in-law made a bamboo flute. No matter how hard he tried, it was not ‘melodious’.

“One day, he passed it to me and somehow, I made ‘beautiful music’,” Ayawan added, with a hearty laugh.

Over the years, Ayawan honed his skills as a musician. The more he got into music, the more peaceful he felt.

Then one day, fed up with the stress of being a mechanical engineer, he quit to be a street musician.

“That was over 15 years ago. Initially, it took me a long time to convince my mother and late wife that it was the right decision!

“Today, people recognise me as ‘that flute guy’, and I am proud of that,” said Ayawan, who uses public transport to travel to his ‘gigs’.

“People used to stare at me as I travel with several flutes and other ornaments as part of my show. Now, regular commuters know me. We strike up conversations from time to time.

“I have no regrets leaving my job as a mechanical engineer. I have always said, if I had to choose between wealth and peace, I would choose the latter.

“If I had another life to lead, I would make the same decision.”

Ayawan said he owns 99 flutes, but the one he treasures most is a Chinese bamboo flute, known as a dizi, presented to him by a Chinese master flautist.

“The owner heard me play and was impressed. So, he presented one of his flutes to me, saying he had it since 1990,” said Ayawan, who had previously performed at Seri Pacific, and Pavilion Hotels.

“By my reckoning, I was the only flautist to perform in hotels. I also performed in Istana Budaya.

“Despite having regular gigs, I was always drawn to performing on the streets. I like the interaction with the people.

“These days, I collaborate with several other musicians and the Malaysian Buskers Club, to negotiate with malls so we can busk there.

“It is not easy, as we have to deal with the management to get approval and whatnot. Thankfully, Avenue K, Da Men, M3 and Wangsa Walk malls allow us to perform there. My ‘gang’ also takes turns performing at klia2.

“I work six days a week and only take Thursdays off.”

The 2019 Malaysian Championship of Performing Arts silver medallist contributed music to local movies Lari Hantu Lari (2017) and Langsuir (2018) and even taught the actors how to play the flute.

He admitted times have been difficult due to Covid-19, but has survived on the generosity of Malaysians, who appreciate his music.

“I am thankful I was careful with my money. The savings helped during this period,” said Ayawan, whose eldest son is working in Cambodia.

“Earlier this year, I opened a roadside stall in Taman Melawati, selling coffee. I called it Ayawan Kopi – Jungle Coffee in Town. My tagline is ‘rasa bangsawan, harga jalanan’ (aristocratic flavour, at street prices).

“I hired someone to look after the stall when I am away performing.

“To buskers out there, my advice is to be creative, as that is the only way to survive. Singers who do cover versions, need to make the songs their own.

“They have to interpret it in such a way that the public would want to come back and hear more.

“My final advice to them is simple. You have to sacrifice for your art. If you do not want to make sacrifices, forget about being an artist,” he added.