Pahari Noises (Or the musical muses of an unmusical fan) – Those who can sing; those who like singing
There are those who can sing, and sing really well. There are sopranos, contraltos, tenors, baritones, and more. There are those that sing with a deep, hypnotic voice, and those that can crush you with a heart-wrenching falsetto. There are those who challenge the limits of human vocal chords with ease, while still staying within the perfect pitch and rhythm as required. There are those who can do all of the above, and add a little dash of special spice to their performances, too.
I am none of the above.
I am the secret singer in the company of only closest friends and family. I sing in showers and baths, in walks alone, or at the top of my voice while I brush my teeth when I hope that nobody is listening. I wouldn’t wish the sound of my braying voice on anyone (even on myself, when I hear it on record).
With one, loud and abrasive exception: karaoke.
To the chagrin of many of my friends, I absolutely love karaoke. It provides the perfect platform to belt along to my favourite songs while ignoring the norms of public social behaviour. When its karaoke-time, there are no rules.
In my book, karaoke isn’t for good singers, it’s for those who like to sing. Often times, the Venn diagram of those two qualities intersects to give a perfect set of individuals who fall under both categories. But for those like me who don’t fall under the former category, there is always karaoke to fulfil the wishes of the latter.
The genre of music doesn’t matter, just as long as it’s a song that I like enough to have on my iTunes playlist. I’m just as comfortable being R. Kelly on “Ignition (Remix)” (my usual party-starter) as I’m doing a horrible Bob Marley impression, usually “Jammin’”. I can rap along to any given Kanye West track and usually reserve Michael Jackson’s “Man In The Mirror” to end the night on an emotional (and vocally challenging) high. The woman I married adores karaoke much more than I do, so much so that she’s carried a portable karaoke set on holidays, ever ready to plug it into a screen and turn a decent party into a tamasha.
Karaoke bars are great, especially the ones where you can allow booking private rooms with your friends and truly let your spirits flow without outside disturbances or distractions. The alcohol, of course, helps, in making the singer more confident and the listener more tolerant. In India, however, most karaoke joints are in the common areas of a public bar, and many potential singers hesitate to let loose (or sound potentially awful) in front of complete strangers. For this reason, many bars hire Karaoke Jockeys (KJs), who are talented or enthusiastic singers that sing most of the songs and encourage guests to join in from time to time.
I don’t like KJs; they make for a competitive singing environment, and soon, every singer attempts to outdo each other with talent, rather than simply having fun. My solution for encouraging people is much simpler: I prefer to lower the standards of the entire gathering early in the night with my carefree, untrained voice. From then on, things can only look up.
To those who can sing: I appreciate all that you do, because without you (or without your auto-tune), I wouldn’t have any of the music that I love, the music that makes me want to sing. But please, don’t turn karaoke into another episode of ‘The Voice’. Karaoke can be the great unifying platform, where good voices and bad voices come together to form one gigantic dish of audio masala. It is the sacred space for those who like singing, whether they have the talent for it or not. Let’s keep the tamasha going as it is!
Karan Madhok is a freelance writer based temporarily out of Landour, who has a lot of music opinions and very little music knowledge. You can find him wherever you find Mutton Fried Momos. Follow him: @hoopistani
- Karan Madhok / @hoopistani