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Hua Ta Li
Mariana Valle LimaKaraoke no Hua Ta Li

Don’t you dare drop the mic. Karaoke is alive

Karaoke is back in business. To understand the phenomenon, we grabbed the mic and broke into song.

Teresa David
Escrito por
Teresa David

This article was published on Lisbon by Time Out newspaper, February 2023 edition.

There is something liberating about belting out a song - which João Almeida is well aware of. Every week, this consultant pays tribute to his rock idols (while sneaking in a certain 1990s boy band - hello, Backstreet Boys!) on the Golden Vista stage, a restaurant with karaoke, open to one and all since March 2022 in the Docas. “I can get it all off my chest. I know I can be myself there and take my mind off my problems,” he tells Time Out. And judging by the weekend crowds at this space, he's not the only one. 

Karaoke is not just for people like João, who can sing and has even been in a band. It's for everyone. And that's one of the reasons why it's so popular in countries like Japan, where it was born sometime in the 1970s, and now in Lisbon, where it's gaining plenty of new fans on the nightlife scene. Consider the case of Bruno Simões, who has no real interest in music, but still gives his all on stage. “For me, what is most interesting is the chance we get to add music to the mix, in a way that is anything but passive. You play an active role where you're the life of the party, helping your friends and whoever else is there get in the mood,” he says. Elton John, Robbie Williams, ABBA and Queen are his go-to karaoke artists. In Portuguese, he enjoys singing the songs of Quim Barreiros or the romantic ballads of Tony Carreira. “If you walk in there thinking, 'I'm gonna sing my fave obscure indie track', you’re gonna have a hard time getting people moving,” he points out.

Golden Vista
Francisco Romão Pereira

Jean Baptiste, owner of the group behind Golden Vista, with an open mic night running from Wednesday to Sunday, puts the recent success of karaoke down to “a strong upswing in demand, globally, for more personalised forms of entertainment.” And, in addition to being fun, he guarantees it also helps us become more self-expressive. “You see people change right before your eyes.” Something that Bruno Simões corroborates. “Extroverts by nature will, in theory, have no problem going on stage, but it's also a chance to see those who aren’t so expressive in their daily lives coming out of their shell in unexpected ways.” 

The space’s success in the Docas is just one case in point. Since last year, in order to fight the effects of the pandemic, the Navega restaurant, bar and concert venue in Baixa, has been filling the house once a month with its karaoke night. The hostess is singer Inês Monstro, about to release her first album (while also master of ceremonies at Golden Vista), and her job is to feel out her audience and give them the confidence to join in the fun. “It's a time for people to shake it off: the demands of work, family, relationships, emotional problems,” she says. “You don't need to be able to sing for karaoke, you just have to be willing to go for it. A little, or a lot. It’s a space where the key is to just let yourself go,” she stresses. 

Karaoke fever has its classic joints such as Chinese restaurant Hua Ta Li in Martim Moniz, or the restaurant and bar Statvs in Parque das Nações - karaoke venues for about a decade and increasingly in demand - but has also spread into more alternative spaces such as Rove, a bar under the auspices of chef Shay Ola in Largo de Camões, which in November debuted its first hip-hop karaoke night. It went so well Shay wants to hold an event once a month. “It's very funny watching people try to rap,” he admits. For the chef, a self-confessed karaoke fan, “everyone has a secret desire to be a star. And it doesn’t matter if they’re a terrible singer, because everyone will get behind them.” 

Mike El Nite na Musa de Marvila
Mariana Valle LimaMike El Nite

And if you thought hip-hop karaoke was off-the-wall, then Musa de Marvila takes it to another level with its “Magic karaoke” Auto-tune nights. The idea was the brainchild of Miguel Caixeiro, better known as Mike El Nite, whose mission is to prove singing along to Auto-tune isn’t as easy as it looks. For the artist, “karaoke has always been fun. It's fun for everyone. But I think for many years places offering karaoke were often seen as a bit kitschy and uncool. But what goes around comes around and the truth is, it’s a formula that’s hard to beat.” During the magical nights at Musa, expect to hear Spice Girls, Britney Spears and Lady Gaga blasting out. “My playlist takes its inspiration from the 80s, 90s and 2000s,” says Mike El Nite.

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