ChamBuskers: Good vibes, vibrations

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By Saher Khan

At 11 p.m. on Thursday, David Belcher and Brian Galli walked to the corner of Sixth and Green streets with arms full of different instruments. Among bar-goers and rowdy late-night passersby, they readied their djembe, ukulele, shaker, tambourine and kazoo to set their stage for the evening. The headless mannequins of Gameday Spirit in the window behind them were the first onlookers of the night.

The duo calls themselves the ChamBuskers, a play on Chambana and the lesser known name of street performers — buskers.

The two University graduates spend weekend nights performing live music around campus and downtown Champaign. As Belcher drummed away on his djembe, a West African drum, and Galli strummed his ukulele for a cover of Neon Trees’ “Everybody Talks,” a crowd gathered around the two to take in the show.

“The interaction with the audience is my favorite part,” said Galli, a 2014 alumnus of FAA. “It’s really personal; you get to experience people.”

The spontaneity of busking, another word for street performing, is what makes it so attractive to Galli and Belcher, a 2013 alumnus of LAS. Never knowing what people are going to do when they walk by makes for an on-edge entertaining experience, Galli said.

“It’s not like when you’re playing on a stage where you’re separated from the audience. It feels more natural for me. It’s like I’m not above you because I’m performing; I want your energy,” Belcher said.

They received plenty of energy that night as they played a mix of favorite pop tunes. Green Street was bustling with people and cars in the 60-degree weather; nearly everyone going by slowed or stopped to enjoy the sounds they heard from the ChamBuskers.

“We were just strolling, looking for an adventure tonight when we heard these guys,” said Tess Johnson, junior in LAS. “They’re playing live music on Green Street, people walking by are slightly intoxicated, it’s something to see, you know.”

Johnson, along with her friends, said these street performers are different because their performances are more genuine and can’t be seen on campus every day.

Both Belcher and Galli said they grew up around music. They started to play their respective drums and trumpet around the seventh grade.

Despite having graduated last year, the two alumni spent their summers in Champaign making music and perform in a an RSO cover band called Contraband. But it was their friendship and partnership that evolved when Belcher was looking to make some money with his music.

“I wanted to busk because I had no money, and I wanted to go out in the street and play,” Belcher said. “So I made a Facebook event: ‘Busking Party! All of my Friends who like to play music come play!’ And nobody responded except for Brian, and Brian was like, ‘I guess we should go play some tunes.’ From there we instantly decided we should put it together like a busking duo.”

Both Belcher and Galli said they are committed to making music more than just a hobby.

Galli said the reason why they have bonded so much can be attested to their similar goals. They want to be able to make a living by doing what they love and they want their music to communicate and connect with an audience.

“You can be a great skilled musician in life but it’s bridging that gap of how good a musician you are to turning that into something people can digest. So ChamBuskers is awesome because it’s actually this fun musical challenge,” Belcher said. “Learning new songs, singing in different musical scenes, vocal ranges — it’s musically fulfilling and also people like it and people receive it and we can see that.”

While collecting tips is admittedly nice, the two said the interaction with people is the best part. But building relationships through busking isn’t limited to an audience. Belcher and Galli both said the experience has affected their relationship as well.

“It used to be we only played music together, Now we play music and video games together,” Belcher said.

Brianna Davis, sophomore in LAS, and her friends hung around enjoying the music longer than others Thursday night.

“It’s informal and fun, you can kind of join in and they’ve got personalities,” she said. “Also (Galli’s) trumpet kazoo is awesome. They’re just different.”

While Belcher plays the djembe, he also plays the shaker and the tambourine with his foot. Galli plays the trumpet and a ukulele, which he plugs into a small amp. He also plays a trumpet-shaped kazoo, while both provide vocals.

“Right now we don’t really have a concrete plan, we just want to see where this goes,” Galli said of the ChamBuskers.

Both said they intend to start making YouTube videos of their performances. They can usually be found between Tuesday and Saturday nights and are aiming to perform one night downtown and one night on campus per week.

The duo has a Facebook page that announces where and when they will be performing later that night, but along with their love of music, it is the spontaneity of busking that continues to interest them.

“A girl wearing a birthday tiara and a sash was with her friends and asked if she could play our drums because it was her birthday. We sang her ‘Happy Birthday’ and then she played the drums and started busting out these tribal jams and beats and was making really good music,” Galli said of his favorite moment as a member of ChamBuskers. “The expectation was that she was going to bang away at the drums and then she started whipping out this awesome drum beat and we jammed with her for 10 minutes. People surprise you.”

Saher can be reached at [email protected]