Thursday 17th March, 2005

 

Karaoke gets a local facelift

 
 
 
 
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This couple sings their hearts out on March 10 at Club 51 during their celebrity karaoke night.

DJ Scobie, (Mark Ramjohn), tries his hand at karaoke on March 10 at Club 51 during their celebrity karaoke night.

Photo: David Wears

By Sherwin Long

With soca slowly gaining more recognition internationally, Mark Ramjohn feels he finally has the tool to make music fans, all over the globe, echo the songs of soca.

Ramjohn, also known as “DJ Scobie,” is using the Japanese karaoke concept to fashion today’s Carnival hits into easy-to-follow singalong ditties.

For the past year, he and his partner Derek Chin Fatt (DJ Hard Drive) have been crafting soca karaoke numbers.

He described the process as strenuous.

Ramjohn said most of the soca songs were transferred onto a computer and it took around nine hours to do one karaoke tune.

First, the vocal track is brought up on a graph and each note and bar of music is analysed.

He said the lyrics for songs were difficult to transcribe as attention had to be paid to the accompanying music.

“The timing has to be right: every line you see on the monitor has to be in sync with the music,” Ramjohn explained.

Owner of Island Stars Entertainment, Peter Louis also confirmed that crafting karaoke was time consuming.

Louis said that at first people were apprehensive of local music on the karaoke scene.

However, he said when he started doing more tunes they eventually warmed to the idea.

Now Louis has added parang and chutney karaoke to the mix and has the karaoke versions to Adesh Samaroo’s Rajin, Rum Til I Die and Caroni Close.

Ramjohn also had karaoke versions to Mini Priest’s Body Water and Destra’s Fly from this year.

He is currently working on what he called an official Caribbean music karaoke CD with Mighty Sparrow.

“Karaoke adds longevity to the music and puts it in a special place,” Louis said. “Being able to sing that old Sparrow song brings nostalgia and that is the appeal of karaoke.”

Ramjohn hosts Karaoke night at Club 51, Cipriani Boulevard, Port-of-Spain, and said the idea for soca karaoke came out of numerous requests from patrons for local music.

On the night of March 10, the audience at 51 soaked in karaoke sung by the likes of Shurwayne Winchester and some of the onlookers even took their chance on the mic, egged on by friends and well-wishers.

Spurred on by a clapping crowd, one audience member blurted out lines from George Michael’s Faith.

Imitating Michael’s dance steps, for that moment he was a star and to Ramjohn this is karaoke’s lure.

While fans lapped up the karaoke version to their favourite soca songs, Ramjohn observed most artists had a cautious reaction to his work.

In his own defence, he said soca karaoke was simply a device to promote the music.

“If you can get a foreigner to sing your song and read the lyrics they would appreciate it more and even buy your music faster,” Ramjohn added.

The dollars and sense of karaoke

Aside from the technical difficulties associated with soca karaoke—KMC’s lisp is proving problematic as Ramjohn is catching hell to create the karaoke version of First Experience—he said Cott’s policies were not helpful.

Labelling Cott a rip-off, Ramjohn believes his creative work was suffering from the copyright organisation’s grip on local music.

He said artists registered with Cott had no rights, even for promotional ventures like soca karaoke, as permission to re-work a song had to be granted by the organisation.

Despite this, he said, some artists were already embracing his work.

Ramjohn mentioned soca star Iwer George as being interested in having a karaoke DVD of his work produced.

When contacted George said a karaoke DVD would be excellent for international promotion of his work, but attention had to be paid to the economic side and whether the venture was profitable.

In a telephone interview, Colin Lucas, whose hit Dollar Wine has surfaced on the karaoke circuit, said that so far he has not received any royalties for the use of his song.

He revealed that he would ask Cott to look into the matter later this week but at the same time felt pride that his song had developed such popularity.

For his part, Ramjohn denied trying to make money from soca karaoke but reiterated its use as a musical marketing tool.

“I tell artists if their karaoke DVD doesn’t sell then don’t give me a cent, but if it sells all I want is a small percentage,” he added. “If you look at it, there is a West Indian in every part of this world starving for their music. Why not give them an option with karaoke?”

The origin

According to midikaraoke.com, Karaoke is a Japanese abbreviated compound word: “kara” comes from “karappo” meaning empty, and “oke” is the abbreviation of “okesutura,” or orchestra.

At most times a recorded popular song consists of vocals and accompaniment. Music tapes in which only the accompaniment is recorded were named “karaoke.”

Karaoke started at a snack bar in Kobe City. Legend has it that when a strolling guitarist could not come to perform at the bar due to illness, the owner of the bar prepared tapes of accompaniment recordings, and vocalists enjoyed singing to the tapes.

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