Equipped with his black Fender acoustic guitar, Joshua Smith sways on Haight Street alongside his partner Bisi Obateru, who is armed with a microphone. After picking a spot they set up a makeshift performance space across from Amoeba Music.
They dance and sing with full commitment as they serenade their transient audience with their eclectic set comprised of sounds, from reggae and melodic hip-hop to distinct pop and blues influences. On a strangely bright day, this newly-born duo performs with a smile.
The soft timbre of their harmonious voices provide soulful, aural refreshment for the passers-by who dart across the neighborhood looking for a reprieve from the beaming sun. These dedicated street performers are not playing for a pittance. They are playing music for music’s sake.
They call themselves Bisi & The Moonwalker.
Aside from street performing, Obateru and Smith are working on recording as a duo for the first time. The EP, tentatively entitled “Dopamine,” will be produced by Jason Boule. The group isn’t sure when the EP will be released, as they are taking their time with the recording process.
“I totally believe in these guys,” said Boule, an independent music producer and Ex’pression Arts College student. “It’s not all work and no play — they definitely play and have a lot of energy, but their work ethic is incredible and they take their music very seriously.”
Watching Bisi & The Moonwalker perform is to witness two men who appear to be very much in love with what they do. Busking on the street, they happily play their positive music for anyone willing to hear.
“We’re pretty well-received out here,” Smith said. “There usually aren’t any problems until the crazies show up and one of them tries to grab the mic. And there are a lot of crazies,” Smith said, referring to the interesting Haight-Ashbury crowd.
The formation of Bisi & The Moonwalker weaves together two very different stories. Obateru was born and raised in Lagos, Nigeria, and is in his early 20s. Smith, in his 30s, grew up in Seattle. Obateru has lived in San Francisco for two years, while Smith just moved to the city at the beginning of this year.
Obateru came to the United States four years ago as an international student to study chemical engineering at Sacramento State University. However, it was not as impactful as he had hoped. He switched his study to urban planning and moved to San Francisco to attend SF State.
After buying a guitar and being coaxed into sharing his talents with his new cohorts, Obateru took to the street where he fell in love with street performing, and ultimately met fellow busker, Joshua Smith.
Smith plays an array of instruments and has more than 20 years of experience. Among other talents, he is an instructor of martial arts. Focusing on fight conditioning, Kung Fu, Muay Thai and weapons training, he said music and martial arts have similarities.
“They both require the focus of body and mind,” Smith said. “Having multiple things to focus on gives my life balance. I’m in a good place right now.”
After visiting San Francisco several times, he fell in love with the city and he moved here in January. He met Obateru in April, and both became seriously involved in their mutual musical expression.
“Their music is a message and a celebration at the same time,” said Kate Hockette, 22, a humanities major and friend of Obateru’s. “It makes you get up and dance, and sing.”
Hockette works as a receptionist at the Red Victorian San Francisco Bed and Breakfast on Haight Street. She helped Bisi & The Moonwalker into a position where they were able to perform at the Red Victorian earlier this summer for a collaborative event on peace and cultural awareness.
“They’re contributing peace to the world through their music, which is what the Red Vic is all about,” Hockette said. “Everyone in the Haight knows them. They’re the real deal.”
Laurie Marshall is in charge of event coordination at the Red Victorian. The impression that Obateru’s and Smith’s music made on her was substantial.
“It was a transformative evening,” Marshall said. “The simplicity of what they do has so much power.”
Big future plans and deadlines are no
concern for Bisi & The Moonwalker, they prefer their acts of expression to be very much in the moment. Obateru doesn’t worry about when he’ll finish his education, though he certainly wants to, and Smith doesn’t fret over future plans of immense and imminent fame. Their kind of expression is spontaneous and uninhibited by worries of success or failure.
“To be able to make money playing music would be incredible,” Obateru said. “But right now I’m trying to find my agency, my inspiration. That’s the point to education. It’s about finding the inspiration to go out and do something.”
Bisi & The Moonwalker will perform live music for the patrons of Simple Pleasures Café Sept. 7 at 8 p.m. They can also be occasionally spotted busking in the Haight-Ashbury, and their future activity, including the status of their EP, can be followed on the Bisi & The Moonwalker Facebook page.