Sailors, Prostitutes & Karaoke Culture
Cape Town dockside social life is dominated by east Asian sailors who love singing karaoke. Two dockside nightclubs installed karaoke facilities expressly for the Asian trawlermen who love belting out the ballads. Indeed, every time I go to the clubs, I'm waylaid by syrupy sweet Chinese love songs, bubble-gummy Filipino pop, Islamicized Indonesian melodies, soft Taiwanese rock, and lilting Korean classics. And they're all sung through the raspy vocals of drunken sailors.
But the performances are not bad. When Asians sing karaoke, they mean it. Unlike middle-class Westerners who perform with irony and self-mockery, the Asian sailors do their best to imitate the original version of the song. They honor it with fidelity. So too do the working-class coloured prostitutes.
For the sailors, karaoke is just an amusement to pass the time and inspire male bonding. But for the nightclub prostitutes, it offers yet another avenue for solicitation. Classic solicitation techniques revolve around sexy dancing, pleasant conversation, and gentle caressing, but the karaoke microphone allows women to grab all the seamen's attention at the same time. Her voice is able to soar above the crowd's. So it's not a surprise when one of the women lets loose on a familiar pop song.
More impressively, some of the women sing songs in the sailors' languages! Many have mastered one or two of the seamen's tongues, so they enjoy showing off their linguistic skills through music. This certainly gets the attention of the seafarers. Once a lady has demonstrated that she can entertain the sailors in their own language, it's not long before they wonder how else she might entertain them.
It is one of the most striking cultural aspects of the dockside nightlife: listening to working-class coloured prostitutes sing Asian love songs in flawless Mandarin, Tagalog, Indonesian, Korean, Japanese, and Taiwanese.