By: Raizel Harjosubroto
A curious little nose lifted up as I approached the man playing guitar wearing sunglasses in the bright bridge between Yorkdale Mall and its connecting subway station. Milo, the performer’s furry companion, sniffed my hand as a cover of “Here Comes the Sun” by The Beatles echoed through the platform.
While many passengers greeted Milo, he wasn’t the only one grabbing their attention. Strumming his guitar, local musician Morad Guzman smiled at those passing by--even if they had earphones on--and sang for those who stopped to listen.
This is was Guzman’s favourite part about busking.
“People aren’t necessarily [at the station] to hear you and I think that adds to the performance,” he says, lowering his eyes over his sunglasses. “When someone stops to listen, whether they give money or not isn’t really a concern.”
Guzman’s musical experience dates back to over a decade ago and like many other TTC Musicians, his drum and Latin percussion experience brought him to a number of performances and jobs.
“I was still pretty young and I knew that I loved music, and I loved acting too. I chose to follow music,” he says. Guzman’s musical career began in a high school band and eventually found its way to a few folk and jazz gigs around the city.
Though performing in bars was good exposure for the musician, Guzman wasn’t feeling fulfilled. “I started liking it at first, but then I wanted to do something else… I thought I wanted to broaden my horizons, so I picked up the guitar,” Guzman said.
The self-taught musician took his skills and started his own business, “Golden Boy Music,” providing “high-quality entertainment service for a variety of functions.” Serving as the creative director, Guzman has performed at several functions and facilitated drum circles for teams in public and private events.
“A drum circle pretty much consists of [people] getting around together for an activity with the djembe… People have a lot of good times; it’s coordination, team-building, and it ranges to all ages. No experience necessary.”
Drum circles, in particular, have a special place in his heart since his musical journey started with percussion. Guzman says these are another way to reach a large amount of people at once. If the client is OK with it, Milo will come along, too.
On top of providing these services for his clients, he started busking on several street corners in Toronto. Bringing out his djembe or cajon--instruments of West Africa and Peru--Guzman would perform all day to “keep the passion going.”
“It’s just so raw and it captures the essence of the performer, you know?” the charming musician said as he adjusted his sunglasses.
After busking on the streets of Toronto for a while, Guzman heard about the TTC Musicians Program, but discovered that they do not accept percussion performers. Excited that he had more reason to build his guitar and singing skills, he scored an audition because he was one of the first people to apply in person.
“[The audition process] is pretty tedious. You have to look out for the call and be one of the first of 175 applicants to hand in your application in person at the TTC head office. I was like, 150 something,” he explains. “That doesn’t mean you get a license, that only means you get an audition!”
His successful audition earned him a license to play at subway stations across the city alongside other musicians. Yorkdale is one of his favourite stations. “It’s above ground. You get a little more sunlight throughout the day. Spadina is really nice, too. You get really good acoustics there.”
Being born and raised in Toronto has influenced his value of incorporating music of different genres and generations into his music. “You just relate to more people and you don’t narrow yourself down to anyone specifically,” he says.
Connecting and building relationships with the people who are listening is what’s most important to Guzman.
Through the TTC Musicians program, Guzman has been able to create friendships with passengers and even secure a few gigs with potential clients that just hear him as they commute to work. “I just genuinely enjoy connecting with the listeners that pass by me,” he says. “If they stop then you’ve caught their ear. You’ve caught their eye.”
This piece was edited by Valerie Dittrich.