valentine tawie

Karaoke divides humanity into two groups: those who don’t want to sing and shouldn’t be compelled, and those who do and shouldn’t be allowed.

― Dennis Vickers, teacher of philosophy and creative writing

For those who enjoy karaoke sessions in pub and lounges, Kuching City offers scores of venues for rendezvous. Certainly this “City of Unity” is a place where enthusiasts of this singing-made-easy leisure and entertainment can really have a good time.

In the late 80s and 90s and well into the new millennium these joints just sprouted out like mushrooms. Patrons would usually find these music joints very much customer friendly as they cater for almost any genre of music and songs in the world.

What started as a Japanese invention – its Japanese inventor was featured as one of top 100 most important individuals in the 20th century but let his sidekick to further develop the system – karaoke has become a global phenomenon.

Its revolutionary and singing-made-easy characteristics have lent credence to the contention that karaoke is one of Twentieth Century’s wonders. It helps turn wannabes into stars.

Now thanks to karaoke, any Tom, Dick and Harry can croon easily in front of a monitor, provided one can read and sing along. So if one goes to one of the many joints, kindly be ready for anything.

Guys who go out of tune and wannabes who fumble with a melody or two are regularly featured. And don’t be surprised or irritated if any of the joints is all noise and no sound for most of the opening hours.

This is commonplace, thanks to democracy and the business ethic that customers are always right I survived this predicament for over a year as a pub deejay at night (and college lecturer during the day) between November 2004 and December 2005.

In the executive lounge where I worked along Ban Hock Road here in Kuching, there were regulars who made up for their poor musical talent with a free flow of beer and other drinks for the deejay.

One Korean engineer who was pleased with my good memory of his choice of Korean songs (actually I wrote the CD codes for my own reference) bought a bottle of wine each time he came that he shared with me.

Another group of local elderly Chinese guys, including a fishmonger, used to send over bottles of beer to the DJ counter. I had to bear with their fumbling of melodies, especially singing John Lennon’s Imagine which their great favourite. 

Nevertheless, one need not worry about this hiccup or minor glitch in karaoke joints. There are numerous joints to choose from. These range from one that caters exclusively for elderly patrons to one that caters mainly for youngsters, to one that is exclusively Chinese and to mixture of all-in-the-family outlet as well as to one that is a combination of karaoke and live music.

For dangdut lovers, there are a few joints in town catering especially for it. The same goes for those with special taste for Iban songs as well as Country and Western.

Lately a few started their joints in Padungan, Stutong, Jalan Song, MJC, Tabuan Jaya, Central Park and Ban Hock Road as well as other areas in Kuching. There are at least two joints favoured by this group in Samarindah, in Kota Samarahan. 

Most of these joints offer a wide repertoire of Malay and Indonesian songs. Just drop by and karaoke pub in town, one would be spoilt for choice when it comes to Malay and Indonesian numbers.

After all, they are easily the favourites among patrons of pub goers, including Chinese patrons. For that matter, karaoke pubs with exclusively Chinese songs are quite rare, though in Kuching we do such have pubs that have limited songs in English, Malay and Iban or Bidayuh.

And don’t be surprised if these elderly patrons croon Wong Chen Yen songs without looking at the screen. This reminds me of my rare trips to such joints in Seria, as well in Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei Darussalam where karaoke heroes and heroines tried to better each other on stage without looking at the screen.

At times they sounded better than the original singers in terms of vocals and styles. It was worth the money we paid for beer served inside a tea pot.

Those were the days when restrictions on alcoholic drinks in the sultanate were still at moderate and tolerable levels. Then karaoke pubs were still very much an integral part of night entertainment there.

I have been lucky to have served as part time and fulltime DJ in Kuching pubs such as The Steppes at Jalan Simpang Tiga in the early 90s and later at The Sapphire in Ban Hock Road as aforesaid.

Both have ceased operation due to various reasons. As deejay one has to face various challenges. Many patrons consider you a kuli (a servant) which is actually true. After all you are earning to serve others though a few look down on you as you are a kuli.

There was once when my former teacher trainee in Rajang Teachers College addressed me as “boss”. His arrogant friend who drove a 250 cc bike said: “Jangan panggil dia boss; dia kuli (Don’t call him boss; he is a ‘kuli’).

This guy probably changed his attitude when he saw me coming to the pub in an elegant Proton Wira the next day.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the New Sarawak Tribune.