Karaoke originated in Japan over 30 years ago and the word comes from Karappo, meaning “empty” and Okesutra, meaning “orchestra” – so it literally means empty orchestra!
There are many stories about exactly where and how it was invented but the most popular one seems to be that it began in a bar in Kobe City in The West of Japan. Legend has it that when the usual musician didn't turn up to play his set one evening the bar owner played a recording of the musicians backing track and the regulars who knew the songs well sang along. This became so popular that the musician was fired and the customers enjoyed Karaoke every night instead.
Kobe City has a long history of being the first area to adopt new trends. One of the first ports to accept foreign trade is quite close and the area is known for being very technologically and fashion forward. It may well be that the creation of Karaoke being in Kobe has more basis in assumption rather than fact. There are many bars all over Japan that claim to have invented Karaoke first.
Wherever and however Karaoke was invented it soon spread throughout Japan and after that to The West, although Japan continues to be its heartland. The Japanese psyche seems well adapted to standing up and singing to an audience and the audiences there are generally appreciative no matter what the quality of singing is.
As Karaoke has become more popular people looked for ways of making their own backing tracks. Before the internet was accessible to all people weren't generally able to download karaoke tracks so they would try to remove the lead vocalist from recordings electronically or buy tapes of well known songs with the lead vocals removed already. This lead to copyright issues and the quality wasn't always great either.
These days it’s pretty easy for anyone with a computer to download karaoke tracks to use in a bar or private party, which is ironic considering that as the ease of downloading karaoke tracks has increased its popularity hasn't. In the late 1980‘s and early 1990’s most towns had at least one karaoke bar and a karaoke machine for home use was a popular Christmas present but Karaoke seems to have fallen out of favor a little.
Even so there are still plenty of karaoke bars around and places that can be hired for private karaoke parties and its still seen as an excellent way of getting the party started. The rise of TV talent shows has encouraged people to have ago at singing themselves in front of an audience and a karaoke bar or party is a brilliant way of doing this without facing the judges buzzers!
Karaoke might not be at the peak of its popularity but with better technology and the ease of downloading karaoke tracks onto smartphones and other devices it is still a great way to entertain and break the ice in group gatherings.