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About that deadly "My Way" karaoke

Over the weekend, the New York Times ran a great story on the "My Way" murders in the karaoke-obsessed Philippines. The Times story noted that over the past decade, at least half a dozen people have died just after (or while!) performing the Sinatra tune, ginning up a local legend and landing the story on the NYT's most-read box, a rarity for an international affairs piece.

I looked back at some English-language Filipino news sources, where stories about the "My Way" murders and Filipino karaoke culture abound. A 2002 Philippine Daily Inquirer piece entitled "Rage Against the Machine," for instance, reads: "'My Way' still holds the record for sending the most number of local singers on their way to their Maker. I just read from our Metro pages last week that another fellow got knifed to death that way....Maybe the suspect objected violently to the way his [duet] partner carried his part? Maybe he felt being drunk was not an excuse?...Extreme aesthetics."

Here at FP, we wondered how karaoke became so popular in the Philippines in the first place. The sing-along machine is apparently a fixture in bars, clubs, and private homes, and popular even at funerals.  It turns out, that is in part because Filipinos consider karaoke to be a local invention -- though its provenance is a long-standing international dispute.

It all comes down to Daisuke Inoue of Japan and Roberto "Bert" del Rosario of the Philippines. Inoue argues that he built the first karaoke machine and rented it to various bars and clubs in Kobe, Japan, starting around 1971. He coined the phrase "karaoke," which means "empty orchestra" in Japanese -- and never filed for a patent for the invention.  

Del Rosario says he never heard of or saw Inoue's invention. The music-school head says that he created his "Sing Along System" around 1972 and patented the first prototype, under the name "The One Man Combo," in 1975. He alleges that a group of Japanese businesspeople visited his offices, saw his machine, and replicated it in Japan.

"I can rightly claim to be the inventor of the SAS or karaoke because of the international patent ruling that the first person to patent his product is the inventor," del Rosario told the Philippine Daily Inquirer in 2002, after years of disputing the karaoke machine's origins. "The main reason why I developed the SAS is the fact that Filipinos love to sing."

YOSHIKAZU TSUNO/AFP/Getty Images

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