Street performers weren't always welcome in Malaysia, but now the government is part of an effort that's literally providing them a stage on which to perform.
Most days, buskers perform in the main train station under Kuala Lumpur's famous Petronas Twin Towers, the pair of skyscrapers that define the city's skyline.
"We're all traveling around. And if we find a spot anywhere, in any country, then we do busking," says Ali Hakim. He's part of a pair of singers we found at the station. They play his native Malay music and covers of more familiar tunes.
"This is what we love. We love to travel. We love to play music, so we combine together, and we go," he says.
In Malaysia, buskers are no longer playing in the shadows. They even get sound equipment and a stage in a place where buskers used to skirt the police for panhandling.
"The busker in the early generations, they looked like beggars, involved with drugs, and they were very independent," says Wady Hamdan.
He helped bring the street artists together when he started the Malaysia Buskers Club three years ago. Since then, the club has united the community, helped clean up their image, and it's brought on benefits for the city, including a constant stream of live entertainers at tourist hot spots.
"Of course all the tourists that come in to Malaysia, they just want to feel the lifestyle. And we can show that Malaysians are free to sing anywhere on the street," Wady says.
The busker club doesn't take a cut of the money tossed into guitar cases. And even at popular locales, like the train station, there have been enough open slots to accommodate all the performers.
The Malaysian Tourism Ministry helps support the busker group, spending money on sets, promotion and drug tests to make sure member buskers stay clean.
"They already arrange everything. So we can just play," Ali says.
The effort to legitimize busking has legitimized his work. He and his partner now make enough money from busking that they get to make music for a living.
"We didn't do any other job than this," he says.
Chan Kok Leong contributed to this story, from Kuala Lumpur.
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Street performers are common in cities around the world, but they're not always welcomed. In Malaysia, a new initiative is helping to polish their image. NPR's Elise Hu sent us this story from Kuala Lumpur.
ELISE HU, BYLINE: Underneath the famous Petronas Towers, you can almost always catch a free live music. Most days of the week buskers perform in the main train station here.
ALI HAKIM: We're all traveling around and then if we find a spot anywhere in any country and then we do busking.
HU: Ali Hakim is part of a pair of singers we found playing at the station during the lunch hour. They play his native Malay music and...
UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Singing in foreign language).
HU: Their takes on familiar tunes.
HAKIM: This is what we love (laughter). This is what we love. We love to - we love to travel. We love to play music, so we combine together and we go.
HU: In Malaysia, they're no longer playing in the shadows. They get sound equipment and a stage, a proper platform in a place buskers use to skirt police who would consider them panhandlers.
WADY HAMDAN: The buskers on the earlier generation, it looks like - more like a beggar involving with drugs. And they are very independent.
HU: Wady Hamdan helped bring the street artists together when he started the Malaysia Buskers Club three years ago. The club has united the busker community, helped clean up their image and brought on benefits for the city - a constant stream of live entertainers at tourist hotspots.
HAMDAN: Of course, all the tourists coming to Malaysia they just want to feel the lifestyle that we can show that Malaysians are free to sing anywhere on the street.
HU: The busker club doesn't take a cut of the money tossed into guitar cases. Instead, the Malaysian tourism ministry helps support the group. It spends money on sets, promotion and drug tests to make sure member buskers stay clean.
HAMDAN: I think they not look like a beggar anymore. People start appreciate. By having this association, I think we bring up a good image to the buskers. There are now days where everyone very supportive to the buskers.
HU: For singer Ali and his fellow busker.
HAKIM: They already arrange everything, so we just can play.
HU: The effort to legitimize busking has legitimized his work. He and his partner now make enough money from busking...
HAKIM: We didn't do any other job than this (laughter).
HU: They get to make music for a living.
UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing) Oh, yeah, yeah.
HU: Elise Hu, NPR News, Kuala Lumpur. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.