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When Covid-19 keeps music off the streets

Abot was a well known singer before she became a street musician but Covid-19 has forced her to take on other jobs as well.

Aliff Fikri
2 minute read
Norimah Muhammad, better known as Abot, was once a street musician but has been forced to look for other ways to make ends meet.
Norimah Muhammad, better known as Abot, was once a street musician but has been forced to look for other ways to make ends meet.

While Covid-19 and the measures taken to curb its spread have kept millions at home in various phases of lockdown, one group in particular is itching to get back on the streets – literally.

Before the arrival of the pandemic, street musicians or buskers made their living playing and singing on kerbsides, at five-footways or in cafes – any public space where they would be able to gather an audience.

With public gatherings banned under most forms of lockdown due to the contagious nature of the Covid-19 virus, many of these individuals have been struggling to get by.

Norimah Muhammad, better known as Abot, was a popular alternative singer in the 1990s. In 2015, she, her husband and a few others began a career as street musicians.

But the pandemic brought their music to a halt and forced her to find other ways of making a living.

“We honestly depended on moving around in order to make a living,” she told MalaysiaNow.

“Since the movement control order, we have been spending most of our time at home.”

Now, they do a little work on the side, writing songs and lyrics under the Music Authors’ Copyright Protection.

“Thankfully, we make some money. But we cannot depend on this work alone,” Abot said.

Despite their tightened belts, they know others are going through a harder time.

“Our situation is still under control,” she said. “Others are in more difficulty.”

She also receives some assistance from the Malaysian Artistes’ Association or Karyawan.

“But when we cannot move about to make a living, eventually our resources will dry up too.”

Better days, before the arrival of Covid-19 and the accompanying lockdowns.

Like many other musicians and singers whose audiences were restricted by the pandemic, she has also started her own YouTube channel. However, it isn’t turning a profit just yet.

In the meantime, she makes what she can reading poetry online and doing video editing work – a far cry from what she used to do before the pandemic.

Pre-Covid-19, Abot was usually found performing in hotspots such as Wangsa Maju, Setia Alam, Cheras and throughout the capital city.

Before becoming a street musician, she was a known artiste who made her first album, Alternatif Buat Orang Timur, in 1996.

She also won the Best Album Cover award at the 1997 Music Industry Awards, qualified for the semi-finals of TV3’s Juara Lagu (Muzik Muzik), and was named the first female solo alternative singer in the Malaysia Book of Records that same year.

Her second album, Tak Tahu, came out in 1997 followed by her third and final album, Sayang Pok Pai, in 2002.

She married thrash metal guitarist Jac FTG, or Mohd Rafli, in 1999. They now have two children: Siti Khadijah, 20 and Siti Hajar, 13.

While Covid-19 was an unexpected catastrophe that swept across the entire world, Abot believes it is also a challenge for her to continue moving ahead.

“Our parents faced an emergency due to war, now we are facing tiny germs that cannot be seen but are very dangerous,” she told MalaysiaNow.

“There must be something positive and better, and we need to think, I am always positive.”