As 2012 drew to a close, I jetted off from New York to make my first-ever visit to Istanbul. The city that was founded as Byzantium in the 7th century B.C. certainly lived up to my expectations of it as an exotic destination that can be appreciated on many levels. Of equal interest for this blog, less than 24 hours after I stepped off the plane at Atatürk Airport, Istanbul became the latest stop on my World Karaoke Tour!
Klub Karaoke: The tour rolls on
It happened at a venue called Klub Karaoke. That particular “Klub” is located just off Istikal Street, a pedestrian-only thoroughfare that’s known for its abundance of nightlife. I’d found Klub Karaoke’s website via a google search while planning my trip; and I was particularly impressed that the bar makes its songlist available for perusal online. That was a big plus for me, since it enabled me to confirm in advance that I would find my desired songs there.
Most of the bars, nightclubs, and restaurants that draw revelers to the Istikal Street area are actually found on side streets that intersect Istikal rather than on Istikal itself, and that was true of Klub Karaoke. Here’s what Klub Karaoke looks like on the outside:
Istanbul boasts the distinction of being the only city in the world that spans two continents. You can transit between Europe and Asia without leaving the city limits. (Its European and Asian sections are separated by the legendary strait known as the Bosphorus; traversing that strait can be done by boat, or by car across one of the two bridges that span it.) Although located on the European side of Istanbul, Klub Karaoke is one of those hybrid, Asian-style establishments in which you’re presented with a choice of renting a private room with your friends or singing in the main bar area. (Klub Karaoke refers to its principal bar area as “Istanbul Central.”) Of course, I opted for Istanbul Central. There’d be no point in traveling 5,000 miles to sing if I was only going to lock myself in a private room before belting out my tunes. The whole ethos of my World Karaoke Tour is based on playing in front of audiences
Incidentally, Klub Karaoke charges a cover of 20 Turkish liras (about $11 US). For that price you do receive a voucher for a free beer; so as admission fees go, the one levied by Klub Karaoke isn’t particularly onerous.
My initial outing to Klub Karaoke — which made Turkey the 27th country on my World Karaoke Tour — came on my very first night in Istanbul: Friday, December 28, 2012. The song that made it official was one that I’d pre-selected for the purpose: “Rock the Casbah,” by The Clash. However, I was called up so quickly after submitting my song slip that I didn’t have a chance to line up a videographer to record my performance. So I returned to Klub Karaoke the following night to deliver an encore rendition of “Rock the Casbah” — this time to be recorded for posterity. Here you can watch that video:
What I didn’t sing in Turkey was as notable was what I did sing there. Some of my Facebook friends had suggested that, in addition to “Rock the Casbah,” my set list should also include “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)” — a classic swing song originally recorded by the Canadian group The Four Lads in 1953, but covered numerous times, most famously by They Might Be Giants in 1990. The TMBG cover does appear among the entries in Klub Karaoke’s online songlist. (It’s probably the only version of the song that you’re likely to find at most karaoke venues). I really like the TMBG version of “Istanbul (Not Constantinople),” and I tried it out in New York in the weeks leading up to my departure for Turkey; however, it turned out to be the latest example of a song that I enjoy listening to, but which just isn’t well-suited to my vocal range. Additionally, its tempo is very quick, and I have difficulty keeping up with the timing of tunes that go by so fast. So I regretfully forewent the opportunity to perform “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)” in Istanbul. “Rock the Casbah” does, at least, have an association with a part of the world that’s reasonably close to Turkey. (Wikipedia says that “a kasbah is the walled citadel of many North African cities and towns.” The original Casbah is the citadel in Algiers, Algeria, which is approximately 1,420 miles from Istanbul.)
Regardless of my own song choices, one thing I always enjoy when karaokeing in foreign lands is the exposure to local tunes that are new to me. Here you can watch some Istanbulites at Klub Karaoke, spiritedly interpreting a Turkish number that I quite liked:
The night continues: singing with drag queens
On my first night in town (December 28), after my session at Klub Karaoke, I met up with a couple of fellow travel aficionados from twitter, Billy and Raine Taylor, who were in the midst of a several week stay in Istanbul. (Their respective twitter handles are @travellonger and @taylorsontravel. And you should follow both of them!). First we walked around the neighbourhood for a while, exploring many of the side streets that jut out from Istikal; but we were having difficulty finding a place to grab a drink that would be quiet enough for conversation. Eventually we ended up back on the same street that Klub Karaoke is on. Just down the block from Klub Karaoke, we noticed another bar, Frappe, that was in the midst of a karaoke night.
Before we entered the premises, the bouncer informed us that Frappe was a gay bar, which is not my usual scene (not that there’s anything wrong with that scene). But we decided to go inside anyway – partly due to Frappe’s lack of a cover charge, partly because it would offer the rare opportunity to sing in the presence of a drag queen, and partly because we were ready to just sit down somewhere and imbibe. I sang one of my A-list songs, Spandau Ballet’s “True,” and it was nice to be able to give a karaoke performance in front of online friends that I was meeting for the first time. No videos were made of this after-hours event.
Looking ahead: what’s next for my World Karaoke Tour
The next international destinations on my World Karaoke Tour will come in the form of a trifecta during a single vacation: Russia, the Ukraine, and Moldova in May 2013. Those erstwhile members of the U.S.S.R. are slated to become the 28th, 29th, and 30th nations in which I’ve sung karaoke. Currently, the only person that I know of who’s made karaoke appearances in more countries than I have is the Australian travel writer Brian Thacker. His blog mentions that he’s sung in 29 different countries. Recently, Mr. Thacker confirmed to me, via an exchange of comments on that blog, that his total is still at 29. So the way is free and clear for me to become the all-time leader for most countries on a World Karaoke Tour! For that and many other reasons, my journey to the former Soviet Union is going to be huge!
But before that, I have a shorter trip to Nashville, Tennessee coming up in February 2013. While in Nashville, I’ll be journeying to the nearby town of Murfreesboro. In Murfreesboro, at a bar and restaurant called Duggers Food & Fun, a woman named Heather runs karaoke nights that she calls “Karaoke with the ‘H-Bomb.’” I’ll be showing up at that establishment to let Heather know who the real H-Bomb is!
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