One of the good things about writing a daily blog is that I have an excuse to randomly drink tea and talk to interesting people.
Last week, I saw – and heard – a girl singing in Leicester Square tube station. There is a video of her on YouTube busking at Bank station in 2010.
She was no ordinary busker.
Yesterday, I had tea with her in Soho.
London-born Danusia Samal spent part of her childhood in the Middle East. After returning to London, she studied at the BRIT School for Performing Arts, then started a BA in European Theatre at the Rose Bruford College of Theatre & Performance.
“I did a year,” she says, “then changed my mind and took a gap year” during which she performed in various productions including The Suit at the Young Vic, where she played the Shabeen Queen, the jazz songstress narrator of the show. After her gap year, she got a place on the BA Acting course at the Central School of Speech & Drama and, during her time training, she was nominated for the Laurence Olivier award and the Carleton Hobbs BBC Radio Award.
Since then, she has performed at Soho Theatre, Manchester Royal Exchange, the Citizens Theatre, Unicorn Theatre, Pleasance and Watford Palace and she has collaborated on various music projects, including writing music for 1001 Nights at the Unicorn Theatre.
She is 24.
“How long have you been busking?” I asked Danusia.
Danusia Samal on way to London’s Soho Theatre last night
“On-and-off for just under six years,” she told me. “Acting’s a career thing. You have to work hard and do all of the networking and things you don’t enjoy doing and the music thing is just something I really enjoy. So I’ve decided to do that out of enjoyment and passion. If the two ever merge, that’s great.
“I meet people, I sing to strangers, I enjoy the interaction and it keeps me ‘up’ when I’m not working as an actress. I don’t do that actor ‘resting’ thing because I’m out doing something, performing all the time, so I don’t get that ‘low’ thing.”
“When I saw you busking last week,” I told her, “singing jazz, I thought Ooh! What a great voice! and walked past, Then I turned back to have another listen and, as I did that, some bloke you knew came out of a side tunnel and there was something indefinable in the way you looked at him and your body language. It was something like This is something I have to do as a rite of passage: standing in the underground singing. But it wasn’t Ooh, I should be doing better things, it was like you were just taking things as they came along. It was an intriguing reaction.”
“Well,” Danusia told me, “I’m not embarrassed by standing singing to strangers for money in a tunnel, but I know some people think… That was another actor you saw… I sometimes run into people who don’t know about it and it’s quite a good laugh to watch their faces change as they do a double-take and realise they know me.”
“In one of the few job interviews I have ever had,” I told her, “the person interviewing me said: John, your CV seems a little unfocussed. He seemed to think this was a disadvantage. I thought it was on the plus side – doing lots of different things.”
“I quite like the bitty madness of life,” said Danusia.
“Ah!” I said. “Maybe that was what I saw in your eyes when you were busking. Someone who accepts the bitty madness of life.”
“I enjoy surprising people by doing all sorts of stuff.” she told me. “And completely unexpected things always come up. When I’m down and I think nothing’s going to happen, something random happens. You know the other day the whole Victoria Line closed down because they accidentally poured quick-drying cement into a control room?”
“With people in it?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” said Danusia. “The signal room was flooded with quick-drying cement, so they had to shut the whole line. I got trapped in a tunnel full of commuters at Tottenham Court Road. These people were queueing to get onto platforms and it went on for about an hour and a half and I thought Oh God, I’m going to be really annoying them, because I’m nose-to-nose with them and they just want to go home and I’m in the way, but I couldn’t get out because I was trapped in my little performer’s semi-circle. So I carried on singing and it was one of the best sessions I’ve ever had because I was actually cheering people up.”
“I guess it was like singing in the tube stations in the War while the bombs were falling,” I suggested.
“Yeah,” said Danusia. “I remember a really elderly lady stopping to talk to me and singing me old songs. She told me she used to be a singer in World War Two. I meet interesting people.
“Strange people ask me to sing strange songs”
“Strange people ask me to sing strange songs. And I had a man come and talk to me the other day for about ten minutes in unintelligible… He was British and I think he was trying to speak in English, but I don’t know if they were even words… He just spoke at me for a really long time.
“When I first started, I stupidly gave out cards with my phone number on. I got called a lot by this guy who was allegedly a rapper. He kept phoning me at like four in the morning, telling me he was going to pick me up in a limo if I just gave him my address. Really weird stuff.”
“So,” I said, “you sing, you act…”
“…and I write music with my cousin, who’s a guitarist. He used to have an Indie rock band now he writes these gorgeous guitar riffs and I write lyrics to them.”
“You should write songs about the people you’ve met through busking,” I suggested. “You’ve got endless songs in you about bizarre people. Have you written plays?’
“I’m trying to write one.”
“Which is about…?”
“It’s gonna sound too autobiographical, but it’s about a woman who’s partly of a foreign background, partly British and it has two split scenes. One with her family who are not from here. And one with her English friends. And the scenes blend in and out of each other, so she’ll walk from one into the other. But it’s a sort-of comedy. My mum is Polish – well, she was born over here, so she’s British – and my dad is Kurdish.”
“Which bit of Kurdistan?” I asked.
“The bit in Turkey.”
“And where are you off to after we finish talking?”
“Soho Theatre. I did a play in Manchester with comedian Ed Gaughan and we got together and did a sketch for his night of sketches at Shoreditch Town Hall and one of the acts there was Julian Barratt (of The Mighty Boosh) and he’s doing a night at Soho Theatre tonight and we’re doing ten minutes of our thing there. It’s kind-of last-minute, so we’re just meeting and grabbing something together.”
“And after that,” I asked, “in the grand scheme of things?”
“I don’t know. I’m definitely in the middle at the moment. I’m not sure what I’m doing right now.”
“And does that worry you?”
“Sometimes. But it’s also kind of refreshing.”
Danusia has an online showreel.