- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
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 July 11 , 2003 

Outside Eye: A non-Armenian's view of life in his adopted home

This place is filled with lessons and discovery for a guy like me. The latest came on the morning side of a long evening when I learned the Armenian word for karaoke:

Gna korir. Run away. Run for your life, etc.

As if the Japanese hadn't done enough damage with their indoor ski slopes and golfing ranges built like condominiums, their international affliction, karaoke, is festering in Yerevan.

Next week there's even a city-wide competition. As if such a thing should be encouraged.

I've been invited to go karaokying (does it have a verb?), routinely as long as I've been here. In my home country such an invitation is the equivalent of saying: "Are you as desperate for entertainment as I think you are?"

Here, though, the event comes shame-free and with no hesitation and no lack of participants, as I learned on my virgin venture to Armenian karaoke. A friend's birthday was the cause of my trip into the torture chamber. Believe me, everybody came out older.

The only other time I'd seen karaoke was in a Florida hotel with some American professional baseball players. The discovery that night was that the ability to hit or throw a 90-mile per hour pitch apparently makes a man tone-deaf (though, regrettably, not self-conscious of that fact).

There, participants got up on a stage. In Yerevan Tuesday night, the scene was more like walking into Elvis' recreation room at Graceland (if the King of Rock 'n Roll had settled in Moscow, rather than Memphis). It was wall-to-wall lounging. Large men and loud women were spread across couches as if waiting to pass a bong in a Hollywood representation of the 1960s drug culture.

Instead they passed a microphone, and there are not enough drugs in the world to take the result to any level of "high". People in my party participated. They are no longer people in my party - not if the party involves amplified voices that should instead have a volume switch glued on "zero".

Every Armenian thinks he or she is a singer. The spread of karaoke does little to dissuade that unfortunate misrepresentation of the truth.

The evening was profitable for learning that some words have the same definition in any language. In this case: "Karaoke - A noise made by people too drunk to recognize the unfathomable difference between how they think they sound and in how they in fact do."

In the club we visited, the misled selected songs from a Bible-thick book. Most, mercifully, were in Russian, so I was unable to measure the degree of offense against art. And, so popular is the cultural travesty that a person who ordered, say, "Lady in Red", at 11 p.m. had to wait til around midnight to destroy the song with his performance.

I regret to inform you that people I love were themselves so enthralled that the club owners finally asked them to leave, long past the normal closing time.

Like many of my days and nights in Armenia, karaoke in Yerevan proved a cultural education.

But I left with a question I've asked many times here:

Hasn't this country suffered enough?

According to Agnes
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Click to enlarge.


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  Photos of the week
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The National Chamber Orchestra made a tour of Karabakh last weekend, including an open-air performance at the College of Applied Sciences in Shushi. THe Orchestra is back from a recent tour of Moscow and St. Petersburg.



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