(From my personal journal, 8/26/09)
walking through Chinatown is a dizzying kaleidoscope of scents, faces, tongues, lights, color, and sound.
Chinatown Soundscape series is about sound, specifically song and music by nightlife karaoke. Karaoke spaces, whether private room run or public for all to hear, line the Chinatowns of Manhattan, Flushing, and are emerging in Sunset Park. What is a more visceral, proximate phenomenon than communing with music?
Some of us may think karaoke, especially with your preferred alcoholic drink in hand, is a narcissistic, even obnoxious activity, and well, I can’t deny that. But being that person with a Jameson in my hand, at karaoke on average once a week, singing oldies or 90’s alternative with nostalgic twinkles in my eyes, I am inclined to say, it’s much more. When I asked a Manhattan Chinatown karaoke jockey at one of my favorite spots why he loves karaoke, he shared how he likes to teach Elvis, Beatles, or Deep Purple to Chinese customers who want to sing an English song for the first time. With a smirk, he disclosed how he lowered the mic volumes when too rowdy, too drunk NYU kids started blaring Journey. And this all happens in the same room, each waiting their turn.
In the introduction to Audiotopia: Music, Race, and America, Josh Kun asks us to think of music “in terms of space and in terms of its spaces—the spaces that the music itself contains, the spaces that music fills up, the spaces that music helps us to imagine as listeners occupying our own real and imaginary spaces” (21). Music is a place we can step into, and exists in its own “auditory somewhere.” Karaoke, a popular nightlife business in these areas, offers another ephemeral layer of change and crossings to the conversation on gentrification in Chinatown. If karaoke is framed as a “spatial practice,” what is being built or bulldozed through song, the intermingling of Cantopop and Lady Gaga, among the customers?
In this blog series, I’ll be talking to karaoke jockeys, regulars, and owners at my favorite spots and some stranger-places in the three Chinatowns. Sing on!