TTC Buskers Andrei Denga and Sacha Popov

TTC Busker Profile: Andrei Denga (featuring Sacha Popov)

Both commuters and cold winds swept through Queen's Park station on the afternoon that I met TTC buskers Andrei Denga and Sacha Popov. I watched the duo cue each other seamlessly into different songs, often with only a sidelong glance or the slightest of nods. They hardly needed words to speak to each other.

Unfortunately, mild-mannered accordionist Sacha and I could not communicate because he knew only Russian, which I didn't understand. Even the more outspoken violinist, Andrei, who knew more English, warned me before I interviewed him that his was not very good.

Slowly, as Andrei unraveled the story behind his violin and his case filled with curious currencies, I discovered that language barriers can be overcome with a careful ear. And as was evident from their lively performance, these two were old hands at their musical craft. Music was something we could all understand, and it was something in which they were fluent. After all, according to Andrei, music is but a beautiful message.

How did you meet Sacha Popov?

Musicians are always doing a similar thing, you know, and are old acquaintances. Especially those who play in the subway a long time. They meet sometimes, listen to each other, talk, and try [to play] together.

Do you usually play by yourself, or with Sacha?

I play by myself, I play with Sacha, I play with other musicians--keyboard players, guitarists, accordionists. It's different. The last several months, I've played with Sacha. I meet all these people on the TTC.

TTC Buskers Andrei Denga and Sacha Popov Closeup.jpg

Where are you from?

I'm from Russia. I came to Canada in 1991. First year I came, I was working as a waiter in a Ukrainian restaurant, and in my second year, because I had the highest musical education possible from Russia, I began work in the TTC.

How long have you been playing the violin?

From childhood, 7 years old.

What is your musical genre?

We play different types of music. We play classical, some popular stuff, old music, romance, a little bit of jazz...a lot of different stuff. Depends on the mood.

I noticed you had ribbons on your hat and jacket, and in your violin case.

Yes, in the station after Christmas they were selling these ribbons for charity, so I got some.

I also noticed that you had a few interesting types of currency on display in your violin case. Can you tell me about those?

They are very rare. There's a one dollar bill, Canadian. Another is a two dollar Canadian bill. And another one is a fake one million dollar bill, American. I have a fake one billion dollar bill, actually, also American. You've never seen it? It's some kind of antique. People gave them to me. They didn't have a lot of money at the time so they put in these ones.

How long have you been a TTC busker and why did you become one?

I've been a TTC busker for 18 years. I began in 1992. I began work in the TTC because I like playing music. Composers don't know how the melodies and harmonies come into their head, they just write it, and that's why music is a beautiful message. Serious music especially has a message. Genius music, like Mozart or Bach.

The best part of my work is when I find a new song, and people feel it, and understand it, and appreciate it. I think my work is the best in the world.

What do you do when you're not busking?

Sometimes I give lessons, but not so often. I like playing music and making music myself, I don't like to teach as much. When I'm not busking, I relax by watching movies, listening to music, talking to my friends, traveling somewhere.

Are there any interesting stories from your busking that you'd like to share?

Sometimes people stand and listen, like you today. But one day, an old lady stood and listened for maybe 40 minutes, maybe one hour. When we stopped, she came and asked if I was looking for a good violin. I said, "Yes, of course." When I came to Canada, I was playing a bad instrument, and I was looking for a good violin for not very expensive because I didn't have so much money.

She said, "You know, my husband played violin, but he died 32 years ago. I still have his violin in my apartment, but somebody should play this instrument. If it's a violin and nobody plays it, it's bad for the instrument."

We exchanged our phone numbers, and I came to her home, and she just gave it to me. It's the violin I play right now. I couldn't believe it. Finally, this was like a present from the gods. An old musician in the subway has told me, "Your violin is the best in the TTC."

What's the most interesting thing you've had dropped into your case while you were busking?

People put in sometimes big bills, very big bills. There are some $50 and $100 bills. I've gotten candy, chocolate, and sometimes alcohol. Small bottles of brandy or scotch, things like that. On Valentine's Day several years ago, one woman put in a red rose and a message: "Your music makes me happy."

Watch Andrei and Sacha play the The Blue Danube by Johann Strauss II below.

Every Friday, TTC Busker Profiles aim to shed some light on the talented people who add a little something to our daily commute -- Toronto's true "underground" musicians.


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