Becoming a celebrity for the night
The famed karaoke machine was invented by Japanese musician Daisuke Inoue in Kobe, Japan, in 1971. Karaoke is a form of interactive entertainment developed in Japan in which an amateur singer sings along with recorded music or a music video using a microphone. Lyrics are usually displayed on a video screen, along with a moving symbol, changing colors, or music video images, to guide the singer. Gradually becoming a popular kind of entertainment – initially in Asia followed by countries in different parts of the world – karaoke is bit by bit gaining popularity in some circles in Addis Ababa, writes Senait Feseha.
It is almost eight o’clock on a Tuesday night. A casually dressed man in his mid-twenties hopped on the stage.
“…I’ll never miss a beat, am lightning on my feet,
and that’s what they don’t see-e-e mhmm,”
He sung humorously with the stage lights shining on him. He danced his way across the small stage, playfully waving his arms and spinning around.
“…mhmm, that’s what they don’t see mmm hmmm…” The audience joined in on the insistently catchy and upbeat Taylor Swift song titled ‘Shake it off’, almost chuckling.
No, he is not a professional singer. And he does not have to be. It is the weekly karaoke night at the HQ Irish Pub, part of ‘The Friendship Event’. It is the one time when singing off-key, forgetting the lyrics or performing drunk on the stage will not get the crowd booing or the singer thrown off the stage. At karaoke, everyone gets the chance to feel like a superstar, even if it is just for the night.
Karaoke is a form of an interactive entertainment and public singing. This Japanese word, ‘Karaoke’ means ‘empty orchestra’ it refers to a performance in which a person sings along with recorded music. Using the simple technology of a microphone, a sound box, and a song lyric displayed on a screen, it offers the average person the opportunity to do something extraordinary: to be on stage and perform a favourite song to friends, colleagues or/and to the crowd watching.
With dedicated karaoke bars spreading throughout major cities, this Japanese invention has a huge following across the globe; this practice is also sprouting here and there in Addis Ababa.
These venues usually see a mix of good, average and non-singers. The idea is to have fun and the crowds are usually supportive. It is pretty common for people to shy away at first, only to get motivated to participate after watching another off-tune person croon over the mic.
At The Friendship Event, the cosy atmosphere and the young laid-back crowd make it an easy place to grab a mic and cut loose on the small stage. It also has a large terrace, for those who want to take a break from the off-key crooning.
On each table is a list of compiled songs containing numerous Amharic and English songs, most of them are quite popular. But if a person has other songs in mind, the host usually arranges with the DJ.
When someone goes through a song, friends or members from the crowd start to sing along. Is it someone you know? Is it not? It does not matter. This is karaoke, it gives fully grown adults a safe environment to escape and be silly.
As 8:30 PM approaches, the bar is filling up; there is an unutterable hum of excitement over the room. Edom Baheru, who goes by the name ‘Menen’, is the host. She is spirited and feisty. She often lifts up the crowd with jokes or random dance moves but she is always patient with potentially nervous singers; filling in awkward silences when people freeze or are too shy to sing. She often finds herself taking the mic to initiate the proceedings.
Meanwhile, at the Lemon Bar and Grill, Golden Tulip Addis Ababa Hotel, a karaoke night by the title ‘Be the Star’ is proceeding. This monthly event is hosted on the first Tuesday of the month. Be the Star’s ambience has a good balance of relaxation and liveliness whilst still creating a fun musical atmosphere that features a colossal TV.
Its crowd tends to be diverse in age and nationality. Expatriates, especially Kenyans are known for being active and hyping up the crowds. Locals are usually shy, but after a couple of performances and with the help of the host, the nights become upbeat. There are also those who go to celebrate birthdays and anniversaries, they use the opportunity to sing to their loved ones.
“I love singing. But the problem is, I am not good at it,” Christopher Ita, a Kenyan individual who frequents karaoke bars, says. “I always avoided singing.” That is until he stumbled across Rainbow Korean Restaurant in Addis Ababa four years ago. “My colleagues and I reserved a private room. At first, I was reluctant to sing but then I downed a glass of soju (a traditional Korean drink) for ‘liquor courage’.”
“With time, I gained the confidence to go to public karaoke bars, like the open air karaoke Thursdays at La Lyonnais or Be the Star at the Lemon Bar and Grill.”
To a newbie, karaoke is a strange and scary experience. And understandably, they are hesitant to stand up in front of strangers and open themselves up to embarrassment and a certain level of ridicule.
“Ever since I discovered karaoke, I have had my fair share of fighting over the mic, blurting out wrongly timed lyrics, singing badly and assaulting the crowd with my terrible, dramatic dance moves,” he said with a toothy smile, “not all of them ended in embarrassment, these establishments are where I met my lifelong friends. And to be honest, my voice has improved.”
He believes the one way to truly succeed at the karaoke is to completely release all the anxiety and inhibitions. “Put your heart and soul into the performance,” he says, adding with a chuckle “not your mind.”
“Don’t make eye contact with the crowd, just look at the screen,” he advised his new found friend, Mathias, who was about to go on stage for the very first time. “Remember, no one cares if you are tone deaf, being pitch perfect is not the whole point of karaoke.”
“Am still nervous!” replied Mathias.
“Haha, which is why my friend, karaoke is usually combined with moderate or heavy drinking,” Ita said, with a cold bottle of beer in his grip.