The number of karaoke venues and performances in Muscat is mushrooming. On some weeknights, there are gigs in more than one place. With the coming of cooler weather, and clear and starry skies, fans prefer outdoor performances. An enthusiastic ‘KJ’ host keeps spirits and energy high, and the vibes supportive.
The best parts of karaoke are watching people smile, sing along, and tap their feet - or maybe even coming out in front of the crowd to see who is singing. It is OK to make mistakes in karaoke because it is about solidarity, friendship, and wish fulfilment. It can be a lot of fun or intimidating.
It all began in Japan. Daisuke Inoue, a Japanese musician, saw a need for a product that would encourage people to interact with popular music. As a result, in 1971, he invented the first karaoke machine, the Juke 8. The United States had its first karaoke venue opened in 1982, in Los Angeles. Having been imported from India, Karaoke was brought to Oman 13 years ago. It didn’t take long for it to establish itself as a new kind of entertainment with a local flavour.
Being a star, even for a single song, or for a few hours, at home, among friends, clubs, or restaurants, is a popular pastime that had its first world championship in Finland in 2003. Since then, the championships have expanded to include dozens of countries. Due to the Covid pandemic, the 2020 and 2021 finals were online events. Norway hosted the in-person 2022 final competition, and Panama will host the 2023 event. And perhaps, in the future, Oman can host it too.
Singing is an important part of many cultures, particularly in Japan and the Philippines. Some people enjoy singing while showering, driving, or doing chores. Singing makes a person happy. "He who sings frightens away his ills," Miguel de Cervantes said in Don Quixote. The literature says that singing may boost the immune system. And voilà, it may improve snoring and lung function – because singing involves deep breathing and controlled use of muscles in the respiratory system.
Its practice is primarily an electronic activity. It involves singing along to a soundtrack and reading the lyrics running on the screen in front of a live audience. Like with many other innovations, technological development has resulted in more advanced ways of playing karaoke through the use of smart devices, apps, and all-in-one mics.
From high notes to duets, or group singing, every type of music is covered. There are songs for parties, songs to impress, fun songs, and tunes for female or male singers. Meaning, there is a niche for anyone to perform, and be a star – if only for an ephemeral experience.
Karaoke is a culture unto itself. The audience is not separate from the message, and it is liberating, in the sense that there is nothing to lose except one's inhibitions. It is a safe space in which to learn about risk-taking. It all adds up to a fun evening.
Song choice plays a large role in karaoke. People are drawn in by the emotional connection they have to the songs. Sweet Caroline, It's my life, Summer of 69, and Hotel California are all-time favourites among karaoke fans in Muscat.
Most venues in the capital have regular powerhouses, which is often the result of a strong bond between the ‘KJ’ host, the atmosphere, the fans, and the offers provided by the venues’ organisers. Some goers, however, may hop from venue to venue for the love of singing, regardless of the perks. As the local karaoke scene expands, hosts are flexing their creativity to attract talent and crowds.
Let’s sing. Out of tune, who cares?