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Srbija 2020

Karaoke od Srbije do Tokija

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Karaoke od Srbije do Tokija

Wednesday night. Men in skirts. A drunken crowd sings at the top of its voice to songs that, for the most part, you thought and hoped you had forgotten. A middle aged man sweats over a microphone he doesn’t realise isn’t working. He’s giving it all he’s got to some B52s, oblivious to the fact. Or perhaps he knows and is just looking for an excuse for some air-microphone action to Love Shack. There’s a party mood in the place and the crowd wait with an air of expectation for the latest take on Suspicious Minds. Karaoke fever has struck Belgrade like a wave and there’s no escaping the undertow that’s going to drag you in front of that karaoke mike whether you think you want to or not; if not that night, then the next.

The Scottish Pub seemed to have had a strange effect on people (perhaps it’s the kilts?) but as I was to find out only four days later, karaoke is a strange phenomenon and it’s reach is long, as it struck again, this time at Ana 4 Pistols. The problem with Ana was that its rather cool crowd didn’t seem to appreciate the unashamed camp of karaoke. Some girls didn’t help the matter by taking to the stage to sing a painfully lame rendition of Sweet Child of Mine. It had, at times, been painful at the Scottish Pub, but everyone had been enjoying themselves too much to notice too much, at Ana however, those special karaoke moments were met with stony silence and folded arms that even our very own Axl Rose couldn’t dispel. Despite the Ana crowd however the rise of the phenomenon from Japan was evident everywhere I went in Belgrade last week and on Sunday I saw yet another karaoke night, this time advertised at some small bar in Dorcol.

It makes sense though, as karaoke seems to suit Serbs perfectly. Serbs love to sing and will do so at the drop of a hat. Serbs seem to be able to give themselves totally to singing in a way that they aren’t when it comes to dancing. It doesn’t matter how well they sing, just that they do. Whilst we English can barely pluck up the courage to sing a carol, Serbs will happily sing you a bar or three of any popular Serbian or foreign song you care to name and they happen to know. Don’t concern yourself with the lyrics or the melody, just belt it out and enjoy yourself whilst doing so. And that I suppose is the essence of karaoke. So I imagine one shouldn’t be surprised at the proliferation of karaoke nights in Belgrade.

My problem is that I really want to have a go, but don’t seem to have the courage to sing. My reticence isn't helped by the fact that my singing voice is not intended for public consumption. The closest I have come recently to a bit of karaoke was singing into a remote control in my living room. There had been an audience, a small one admittedly (barely above one actually), but it had been an audience nonetheless. If I could just translate this will to perform into a Scottish Pub reality then I’d be away. I need to take a more Serbian attitude to singing. The problem is that I’m not Serbian and we English aren’t really renown for our outward displays of emotion. And karaoke, for me, falls into that category. But where to find the inspiration, the bottom of a pint glass aside, to take to the stage and ride Belgrade’s karaoke wave?

Where better to find the inspiration to sing than from a man from the birthplace of karaoke. It had been during a recent visit to Graceland with George W. Bush that Japan’s now former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi provided me with the inspiration I was looking for with a rendition of Love Me Tender for the astounded press and family. All that was lacking was a mike in his hand, although tens of microphones ensured the moment was captured for posterity. Koizumi fearlessly belted out the Elvis classic and he was Japanese. If it wasn’t a loss of face for the premier of a country whose people place such emphasis on social etiquette I shouldn’t face too many fears taking to the stage. Just pick up the microphone and think of Koizumi.

Perhaps Prime Minister Kostunica could provide the same inspiration to Serbia’s growing numbers of karaoke voters. It didn’t do anything to damage Koizumi’s reputation, although admittedly he was on the way out, and if my experience last week of the rise of karaoke is any indication, it might be an easy matter for Kostunica to win some Blue Suede Votes with a touch of karaoke.