I love karaoke. There, I said it and I don’t care who knows! I have been doing karaoke for over 25 years now, back when there were 2 or 3 Chinese restaurants in the city offering it for a couple of hours after close to make a couple of bucks. Back when 2 out of every 3 singers and 70% of the song selection was Chinese as well. That’s how long I’ve been doing it. There’s something empowering about getting up on a stage in front of strangers and acting out the star.
Karaoke (meaning literally ’empty orchestra’) first came to prominence in Japan in the early 1970’s where it has become a tradition but didn’t catch on in North America until the 1990’s. Although it has become synonymous with bad, drunk singers, the truth is that it is a fun evening for singer and listener alike and often the vocal styling is top-notch.
Everywhere I travel I secretly scrutinize the destination for info about karaoke in the vicinity (my wife is not as enamoured as I am…although she’ll sing a couple of songs once in a while) so once we had decided to do 15 days at a chattel house in Barbados (an air sale and rumours of terrific snorkeling sold us), I began my invariable online search for local karaoke…and wow!!
To understand this phenomenon, it is incumbent upon me to explain the Bajan (those from Barbados are called Bajans) ‘rum shop’. The rum shop is a tavern, a drinking hole if you will (although good food is available at most as well)…
…and they are centres of the community, gathering places for everyone, young and old alike (unlike our perception of the tavern). They range in size from someone’s driveway holding a dozen patrons to large ones like Frankie’s near the airport.
By some estimates there are around 12,000 on the island! With a population of just 289,680 (as of 2014), that’s one rum shop for every 24 people!
With so many opportunities to ‘lime’ (relax), it’s not surprising that some of these would offer karaoke and as Bajans are people who love a good party and music, karaoke is a no brainer. As you tour the island, you’ll see rum shops everywhere with signs telling you when Karaoke Night is happening…and you’ll see sometimes 2 or 3 every block. There are shops on the island where karaoke is a nightly occurrence, like the D’Absolut Watering Hole at the end of St. Lawrence Gap.
My wife and I did a karaoke crawl one night down the Gap and ending up singing at four different establishments within a 10 minute walk but D’Absolut seemed to really stride that chasm between touristy and local; lots of both were in attendance and by midnight, it was standing room only inside and out.
For $7.00 Canadian, I bought a ‘rum and diet’ consisting of a pint of rum, a bottle of Diet Coke, a bowl of ice and a glass…make your own damn drink! I personally love this way of doing it although it does become difficult for the bartender to gauge how much you’ve drunk but in Barbados, chances are you’re not driving anyways!
The KJ’s (karaoke jockeys) have an enormous and incredibly diverse collection of music available and keep spirits high. In a single night, I heard Bob Marley (lots!), Kenny Rogers, Frank Sinatra (me), Bananarama, Guns and Roses…you name it, you’ll hear it.
If you are a fan of karaoke, rum, good food or a great party, then Barbados has a rum shop (or three) just for you.