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Everyone's a singer at Karaoke Kiosk

Outdoor singing station attracts all ages, languages, abilities

STATE OF THE ARTS

Peeroj Thakre felt dread when her partner's boss announced after the office Christmas party dinner that it was time to sing.

The group tramped reluctantly from a nice French restaurant to a subterranean karaoke room.

But no one was forced into the spotlight. Everyone sang together campfire style.

"I swear it was the best Christmas office party I've ever been to," said Thakre. "It's normally so pleasantly awkward."

The rediscovered joy of singing inspired Thakre and her partner, Henning Knoetzele, co-founders of Urban Republic, a registered non-profit composed of architects, artists and writers focussed on fun projects that play on a sense of place and social engagement. How could they apply the joy of karaoke in a public project for Vancouver, they wondered.

The answer: a karaoke kiosk. But first they wanted to ensure it not only reflected but also appealed to Vancouver's multicultural landscape.

After attending a workshop highlighting the importance of intercultural communication, Thakre and her partner sought out karaoke tracks in eight languages prevalent in Vancouver, where more than 50 per cent of residents identify a language other than English as their mother tongue. Now Urban Republic's Sing! at The Karaoke Kiosk is getting residents and tourists, young and old to gather for good times and songs sung in Mandarin, Spanish, Hindi and more on Granville Street.

Before the kiosk was erected for the first time outside Sears Aug. 13, a queue of singers had already formed.

Urban Republic had hired artist and performer Vanessa Richards to emcee the kiosk, thinking she'd introduce singers and croon during lulls, but Richards only sang the first song.

A glittering curtain of CDs fluttered in the breeze behind one man who cast aside his cane to sing Elvis's "Can't Help Falling in Love," replete with emotive gestures while onlookers cheered and snapped photos.

A younger guy who augmented lesser singing chops with skilful butt-wiggling entertained with Leo Sayer's "You Make Me Feel Like Dancing," and a bespectacled woman performed a sober ballad from the Filipino list.

Thakre said The Karaoke Kiosk has done much to enliven the street that's closed to motor vehicles on weekends during the summer.

"I'm eager to see if we'll have more singers in other languages," added Thakre, whose group hosted the Gastown Drive-in atop an area parkade in 2008.

"We obviously live in a very multicultural city and sometimes I feel that we're all very tolerant and used to a variety of cultures but there're very few points at which they intersect," Thakre said.

The kiosk's multilingual online songbook offers a selection of 90,000 pop, rock, show tune and country songs-80,000 of them in English. Karaoke stars can bring their own tracks or email suggestions.

Urban Republic plans to transport the kiosk from neighbourhood to neighbourhood next summer and Thakre is curious to see how performances and reactions shift at each locale.

"If we were off in Marpole, or our neighbour suggested that we put it up at Pride, I think those would be two very different events," she said.

Sing! at The Karaoke Kiosk is free of charge. Its touch screens light up on the 700-block of Granville Street Aug. 20 and 27 from 4 to 8 p.m.

For more info, see urbanrepublic.ca.

crossi@vancourier.com

Twitter: @Cheryl_Rossi