There is a machine that is found everywhere in the Philippines: in high-rise apartments, along streets in red light districts and located inside small bamboo huts in the most remote Filipino villages. It is accompanied by family members, recent acquaintances, and even strippers in the major cities. In the words of Lady Gaga’s mom, “We are all born superstars,” and this machine allows those words of wisdom to come true. This machine, my friends, is called a Karaoke machine.
My first experience was at a councilor’s house in Samal just a day after I had arrived. The members of the coral restoration project and I were talking and drinking iced tea, discussing the day’s events. Dun Dun, one of the men responsible for community outreach and education, walked over to a pavilion in the middle of the property and began belting out tunes one after another. The group joined him and someone informed me that if I really wanted to be Filipino, I had to sing karaoke. Nevermind that I just met these people about 24 hours prior and I don’t like listening to my own voice. Before I knew it, I was sitting, wide-eyed with a microphone in hand and the lyrics of Don’t Stop Believing appearing on the screen in front of me.
I sounded awful and laughed the whole time. “Sing more,” they chanted and we each did a number of songs before loading up in the truck and driving home. I shocked to see (and hear) other karaoke machines in the homes we visited over the next couple days. Bars and small shacks surrounded by weeds and mud had fully functioning televisions and microphones for use anytime of the day or night
My second experience was in Davao City in a private rented karaoke room. After leaving Samal Island, Viv and I stayed two nights in Gene’s house (the same woman who owned the rest house in Samal) and got to see the city with her wonderful daughter Maiki. On our first night, we met Maiki’s cousins and ended up at a small pizza place with a large private room consisting of a bar area, couches and you guessed it…a kareoke machine. We spent the entire evening eating taco pizza, ordering beer, and singing to our hearts’ content. Sing if you’re sober. Sing if you’re drunk. Sing if you have a terrible voice. Sing sing sing. It was fabulous.
In Metro Manila, particularly near Manila Bay, there are numbers of signs advertising KTV or Karaoke Television. I’ve heard that many of these place have live strippers coupled with televisions and microphones. For the tame, there are family KTVs for more wholesome song singing. Karaoke for everyone.
I’m getting used to having near strangers join me in love ballads, Spice Girl classics, and Jackson 5 favorites. To anyone who hasn’t traveled to the Philippines before: drink some warm tea, warm up the vocal chords and take a deep breath. A microphone and TV is closer than you think.