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How (Not) to Do Karaoke

Timmy Mowafi learns to sing when his winning. And when he's losing. And when he's absolutely petrified of singing.

If I chose to become a bash-mohandis tomorrow, I’d set everything aside, go back to university and not leave my house until I feel legit when my cleaner Badr calls me bash-mohandis. I don’t want to do that but at least I have the choice. So you can imagine my utter ball-aching frustration if something comes along that I physically cannot do if my life depended on it.

I can’t sing. I imagine that, if by chance you heard me giving my vocal chords a run, you would quite easily find solace in hearing a sheep with a tracheostomy being banged against a chalk board by Steven Hawking.

I’ve spent a lot of my life surrounded by musicians which just piles on the embarrassment. In the midst of going through a cognitive rebuttal, I realised I’m going to have to accept this fact and move on, but not before giving it one last shot. Who knows? Maybe I can pull off my own unique, scratchy, British, Chris Martin-sorta sound.

So one Sunday recently, I looked my fear right in its ugly, distorted face, and said, Hey Fear, you sharmoot! Get ready to hear the music: we’re going to karaoke night at Amici, and we’re going to do it sober! Once I got there, I was surrounded by ordinary friends who all happened to have extraordinary voices. I thought the point of karaoke was that it’s a chance for amateurs to get a taste of stardom, with no regard to talent, but no, no, no. Everyone there seemed like they were singing for Simon Cowell, belting out well-known ballads, incredibly well. This pissed me off. They’re all supposed to be shit, like me. There was even one guy who sang Aerosmith’s Dream On… with the high note… and he nailed it every time.


I down a Heineken.


I down another.


I hide under the table


Fuck this, I’m leaving. No. Down another.

Some proper singers at Amici Karaoke

A friend then forced the song catalogue on me. I always find it strange that no matter what bar you are at in the world, karaoke catalogues always seem like they were printed out by a 9 year-old for his English homework. I sat there reading through the Comic Sans names and tracks which were absolutely unremarkable to me. Until I found Bob Marley. Sweet, I thought. I can put on a funny Jamaican accent, pretend to smoke a spliff and hug everyone. It will be lighthearted and cute and there’s no way of messing up One Love.

But no, that unnecessarily righteous voice in my head who likes to be “true to himself”, A.K.A Fear’s drunk arch-nemesis, had other plans. Go home Voice, you’re drunk. It does no such thing and picks what is essentially an alternative-techno song for me to sing, by a band that no one in Amici has ever heard of. There are about 10 lyrics in the song, and I do not really know any of them.

Five or six more people get the mic and sing, each one better than the other. By this point, I’m hoping the MC has forgotten about my request or thinks someone was taking the piss, so I have a minute of relief before my friend comes wrapping his arm around me asking when I’m going to perform. I shrug my shoulders, hoping for a “better luck next time”, but no. He takes me by the arm to the MC and demands to know when I will get to sing. I make a vague attempt to complain as well, but I’m secretly behind him, trying to get the MCs attention and gesturing to him that I’m leaving. No luck. It’s happening. I’m told I’m on after this song.

I lock myself in the bathroom stall and load the song onto YouTube on my Blackberry, holding it to my ear with the volume high enough so I can hear it, but low enough that it doesn’t seem to bathroom-bystanders that I have to listen to techno-music in order to smooth my metabolical functions.

The song buffered for about 10 seconds, which went something like dumm dummmmgbhhhg dummm d djhdhdhd, before I heard shouts of “Timmmy! Where’s Timmy?!” Well, at least I can start somewhere.

The Dream On guy, fresh off from singing another rendition of Dream On, hands me the mic. I should note that I had left the toilet at this point; Dream On guy was not in the stall with me. The crowd looked on and I put my confidence face on. It kind of looks like my toilet face.

The track begins and I realise I forgot to wash my hands. I think about the next person on the mic and wonder if I should tell the MC to stop the track for a minute, by which point I’d been too distracted by hygienic thoughts to notice that the very little words the song has, have already started coming up on the screen. I try to catch up with my vocals but it sounds like the oral version of when you’re a kid and you run out of space to do your bubble writing, so you squeeze letters into the edge of the page in a smaller font.

There’s a gap after that with some more techno-like melodies that gives me a chance to joke the unceremonious intro off and do a little hip-thrusting dance. The crowd laughs. Yes! I can just do that for a while and recuperate. I do more thrusting, I get more laughs. Whey!! I’m getting the hang of this karaoke thing. The words come back on the screen but I’m still thrusting away looking at the crowd for a reaction as they point my attention to it. Okay shit, here it goes, I’m going to actually have to try to sing now…

I remembered something someone told me once. It was that singing comes from the stomach and that people try too hard with their vocal chords. So I tense my abs as much as possible and go for it. And I really go for it. I plant my legs wide and punch the air with every syllable, I start head nodding with the crowd, close my eyes and get more intense, thrusting AND singing at the same time and all of a sudden I’m really getting into it. Maybe I can sing after all! Fuck it; maybe I can do other things too!

Those other things were apparently rearranging indie-techno songs into political analysis. As the chorus “We need to talk…” comes on, I’ve already changed it to “EGYPT NEEDS TO TALK MOTHERFUCKERS!!” Now I don’t know much about politics, but I’m guessing at some point there has to be some sort of oratory dialogue between parties. Suddenly I’m Bob Marley reconnecting the JLP and PNP, I’m Michaeal Jackson blurring the lines between Black and White, I’m the gap between Condoleezza Rice’s two front teeth! I’m darting between tables, dueting with pretty girls, high-fiving bartenders, nailing every single note and then the song comes to its final beat, and I throw the mic on the floor triumphantly awaiting the rapturous roar from my fans and groupies, the look of lust in the women’s eyes and jealousy in the men’s.

The look I got was fear. Pure, unadulterated fear and, possibly, a little disgust.

I slowly sat down next to my friend with the place in complete silence, staring at me.

“What happened? I thought that was pretty amazing…”

“You stood on the table of an elderly couple, as they ate their steak meal, whilst thrusting your groin into their eye line…shouting “MOTHERFUCKERRSS!” I’m also pretty sure they own the place.”

Illustration by Bouklao Illustrations