What is Karaoke?

Have you heard of the word “Karaoke”? If you have heard of it, what is your understanding about this word? Maybe, at this time, different people have a different understanding of Karaoke!

Let’s look up the dictionary for it. Let’s look at the Webster’s New Dictionary. There is no such word. I remember about 30 years ago, when I shipped in Karaoke Products, the Customs Officer in our declaration form, always asked me to explain what kinds of product are Karaoke? I also remember at that time, there is a “Yellow Page” listing for our business telephone lines. The “Yellow Page” Publisher had a difficult time to categorize such kind of business for listing.

So, what is Karaoke? The basic meaning of this word is that it is a Japanese word pronounced as “Kara Oke”. In Japanese language, the first part of the word “Kara” means “empty”, “invisible” but it exists. The second part of the word, “Oke” is a borrowed language, form English, meaning “Orchestra”. The whole word, therefore, means “Invisible Orchestra”. What then, is it? It is a live band, playing out the background instrumental music of a song, that is, people call “Accompaniment” or “Minus One”, for a singer to sing along with it.

Well, in this case, can we say “Karaoke” means “Sing along”? This is right but not completely! “Karaoke” is something more. “Video” is adopted at the same time when the music is played out as an assisting aid to help anybody to sing. On the video screen, you can see the lyrics with changing color to time in with the rhythm and the beat of the song.

Then, who first invented Karaoke Singing? Japan? Well, if you research into its history, you will see “Karaoke” is derived from the bouncing ball music. Such bouncing ball technique was invented by an American Max Fleischer originally for the Ko-Ko song in 1924 (95 years ago). The bouncing ball is a device in motion picture films and video recording, to visually indicate the rhythm of a song, helping audiences to sing along with live or prerecorded music. As the song lyrics are displayed on the screen, an animated ball bounces across the top of the words, landing on each syllable when it is to be sung. The most famous bouncing ball song is “I ain’t got nobody” performed by the Mills Brothers in 1932 (87 years ago). So Karaoke is derived from the bouncing ball music as early as almost a hundred years ago.

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