The History Of Karaoke

The history of karaoke: now popular through many countries, this Japanese past time is a recent innovation. Where did it come from and what changes have happened since it first began?

Karaoke bars have become very popular in many countries around the world, as have karaoke restaurants with songs often available in other languages. Nonetheless, the mention of going to one often elicits groans and moans from those involved. Still, once there and with microphone in hand, those who complained the loudest are often the hardest to stop!

The word "˜karaoke' comes from "˜kara', empty (as in karate - empty hand) and "˜oke'(short for okesutora), orchestra. Rather than including both vocals and music, karaoke tracks only have the music. The vocals are provided by a live person (not a professional) who holds a microphone and sings while following the words displayed on a screen or in a book.

The history of karaoke

While most people agree that it started in Kobe, the origins of karaoke are obscure. One story claims that a snack bar owner, when a performer failed to appear, put on tapes of music and asked people if they wanted to sing. From such insignificant beginnings, karaoke has spread, not just throughout Japan, but also throughout the world and the term "˜karaoke', while pronounced differently, has been accepted into common language usage.

From it's early origins on tape, karaoke moved into CDs, finally incorporating videos and graphics along with on-screen text prompts for those unsure of the song words. The fad spread into bars and restaurants and, even if the person singing wasn't very good, they were applauded at the end. Some people would sing lots of songs and some would only sing one but karaoke brought the people at the venue together in a whole new way.

The impact of new technology

The first real revolution with the technology came with the development of home karaoke sets which meant that you could sing at home whenever you wanted. You can buy karaoke tapes with books to try at home even if you don't have a karaoke set and, one advantage of them is that they often have one side with the music only and one with music and vocals so that you can learn new songs.

Unfortunately, one side problem of the karaoke sets was the noise as Japanese houses tend to be close together and not well insulated so, the Karaoke Box was developed. Karaoke boxes were initially built from converted freight cars as soundproof places where you could sing really loudly if you wanted to. They soon became popular and were put up where ever there was space in both rural and urban areas. A good place to practice if you felt your singing wasn't quite up to human consumption!

More than just music

Japanese people not only sing Japanese songs, but also Western songs. Popular songs are those by Elvis and The Beatles although more modern songs are now available. This is not just to sing something different but, without realising it, they are practicing their English skills! The same works in reverse with many foreigners studying in Japan able to sing Japanese karaoke songs. It's a good way of surprising Japanese friends.

If you've never tried karaoke, you're missing out! For 3 and a half minutes of fame, you just pay and choose a song that you like and wait for your choice to come up. Microphone in hand, follow the marking of the text on the screen and you can't go too far wrong unless you really don't know the song! You can sing alone or with someone else, or even in a group if you're really nervous. It's definitely something everyone should try at least once in their life.

© High Speed Ventures 2011