PETALING JAYA: If you’ve walked down the row of shops in front of Jaya Shopping Centre in Section 14, Petaling Jaya, you would have heard a melodious voice belting out tunes such as “Getaran Jiwa” by P Ramlee or “Oh Carol” by Neil Sedaka.
It’s an uplifting sound, and one that brings a sense of cheer to the busy area often filled with sounds of traffic.
In a covered alley between Guardian Pharmacy and a Chinese restaurant, a blind gentleman can be found playing his keyboard and singing into a microphone clipped to his shirt.
Passers-by stop to drop a token of appreciation into the wooden box in front of him. Others greet him when he takes a break. He is clearly well-loved.
In a conversation with FMT Lifestyle, the 60-year-old revealed that he has been busking for over three decades. Earlier he played with a band in Kuala Lumpur.
He later joined another band made up of blind buskers under an initiative by the Welfare Department and they played in Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman in Kuala Lumpur.
Yaakob’s foray into busking started when he couldn’t secure a job as either a stenographer or telephone operator at the Malaysian Association of the Blind despite being armed with the necessary certification.
The Kedahan is completely blind. “I had a fever when I was four years old. I don’t remember when I lost my sight completely. When I was in Standard One, I could still see the light. Then it disappeared,” he recalled.
When he started with the band of blind buskers, he played percussion instruments such as the bongo and tambourine. But it was the keyboard that fascinated him more.
“When my friend who played the keyboard rested, I took his place. Using my basic guitar knowledge about chords, I tried to play,” he recalled.
It was difficult at first, but Yaakob stuck with it. With his natural gift for music, he eventually mastered the instrument.
For Yaakob, his passion for music started when he was young. He was part of the school band in primary school, playing the tambourine. And when in secondary school, he played the guitar.
But busking was not his first choice as he wanted to be a teacher. “I never had the chance. But at the end of the 1990s, the government offered blind individuals the chance to enrol in teacher training colleges.”
At the encouragement of his family, in 1999, Yaakob enrolled in Institut Bahasa Melayu Malaysia, graduating with a diploma in 2002 and then teaching Malay at a school in Kuala Lumpur. Later he taught music, namely singing and percussion instruments.
However, the father of four and grandfather of two, continued busking during the weekends to supplement his income.
Besides busking, he has also played at hotels and weddings, although he admitted that he didn’t really enjoy those. “I have to play for a fixed duration. I play alone, so it can get boring. With busking, I can take breaks whenever I want to.”
After retiring from teaching in 2018, he began to play in Section 14 four days a week. Besides a keyboard, he has speakers and an amplifier.
When asked what keeps him going, Yaakob shared that besides being a source of income, busking is something that he can do with his God-given abilities.
And of course, a deep love for music. “Music can make problems go away temporarily,” he said.
On a hot weekend afternoon, Yaakob started singing “Always on My Mind” by Elvis Presley and many people stopped to drop donations into his box. So, if you’re in the area, perhaps you’d like to stop by, make a donation, and let him know that after faithfully bringing the joy of music to the public for over three decades, he has not been forgotten.
Catch Yaakob in action on Wednesdays and Thursdays (9am to 3.30pm), as well as Saturdays and Sundays (9am to 4.30pm)