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The Last Serenade

I was the only one in my group of friends who was able to play guitar. This meant that everytime one of us decided to get married, I was the unlucky guitarist who had to play “La Serenata” (“The Serenade”) under the window of the future wife. Generally La Serenata is performed a few days before the wedding day, and it involves all the  husband and wife’s friends and relativies. I repeat, All,  I’ve seen serenades more crowded than a concert or a soccer match.  La Serenata was, and still is, the most boring and embarrassing “ritual” of the Italian folklore. As I wrote here before, it is set under the window of the wife’s bedroom and it starts late at night because, theoretically, the musician should awake the girl  with his repertoire of songs. Once the wife wakes up, she looks out the window (next to her mum) and smiles to the crowd of friends and relatives. At this point everyone start to sing as loud as possible along with the husband and the unlucky musician.

Years ago a good friend of mine, Alessio, organized   a  Serenata for his younger sister who was going to   marry with a guy called Gabriele.

Obviously, my fate was sealed.

“Hey Matteo, can you play the guitar for us?” asked my friend one day, “we need a guitarist who can play along with us”. I had no choice. “Sure, it will be a pleasure” I answered  fake as Pamela Anderson Boobs , “I’ can’t wait for it to arrive!”. It arrived for real, and it was to be the worst Serenata of my life. Alessio and his family lived in Borgo Carso,  a little Borgo near the city. Most of the times the Italian Borghi are a sort of little villages, in which the people know each other very well. It’s like a family, a very big family formed by all the Borgo citizens. When I arrived at Gabriele’s house there were tons of people that were waiting for me. “Finally, the guitarist” screamed aunty Maria, “come on, let me hear you. Play Strada Facendo”.

The “Requesting Time” started.

Suddenly I realized that I had a problem: the repertoire of songs. Alessio days earlier had told me that he had all the songs tabs that the relatives wanted to sing.

It wasn’t true.

“Matteo sorry” he said to me, “but I don’t have the guitar tabs that I have promised”.

This meant that I had to “find” the chords for the songs during La Serenata, while everybody were singing. It’s not easy find the right key when you play along with so many drunken persons. Alessio’s father said that it was time to march to his daughter’s house. We started to walk and the marching parade of relatives, friends, and citizens became bigger minutes by minutes. When we arrived at the future wife house, there were all Borgo Carso Citizens.

Italian Borgo

My Long Hard Road to Serenade

An Alessio cousin start to sing a song that I ever heard in my life.

How could I find the chords?

The most sad thing was that everybody at Borgo knew that song, and immediately they started to sing. I play something with my guitar but it was completely out of key. “Stupid guitarist” said an old man, “you have to play along with us, and you have to play our songs”.

Their songs? I didn’t know their songs.

“Hey Alessio, where did you find this guitarist? He is USELESS ”. When they finished to sing, arrived the moment for the instrumental repertoire. So I started to play with my guitar classical songs as Jeux Interdits and other romantic pieces. “Play louder asshole” screamed at me Alessio’s father, “You have to wake up my little daughter. Play LOUDER”. One of the Alessio’s cousin catch a firecracker and threw it near my feet. As it took the ground it exploded with the violence of a flashbang. All the Borgo Carso citizens laught at me, but I didn’t hear them because I became deft for a few second.

Finally Alessio’s sister  woke up.

She looked out the window and smiles to the drunken citizens. They started to sing a song (which obviously I didn’t know). Somebody took my guitar and played along with them. Alessio’s father gave me a huge and said: “don’t worry, we have our guitarist. Relax and enjoy the serenata”.

I begun to drink red wine,  just to forget the embarrassing situation.

This is the last time I attend to a serenata” I sweared to my self while I was drinking, “no more serenate”.

Obviously, that night I got drunk.

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This video shows exactly what could happen during a Liscio Concert. The crowd interacts with the orchestra in a very “friendly” and participative way, and in this case the one who joins the band on stage (as I wrote in A Cocktail At The Pierrot post: “every night someone would join us on the stage while we were still playing”) is a guy who introduces himself as “Danilo l’Alpino”. He sings (completely drunk) a whole song called “Madonnina dai Riccioli d’Oro”, and it is important to highlight the behaviour of the band leader who encourages and congratulates DANILo l’Alpino, despite the fact that he is out of tune in every single part of the song. He also invites the others listeners to sing along with him. DAniLo l’Alpino is the worst singer I have ever heard, but it doesn’t matter, the crowd claps hands and sings because the most important thing to do during a liscio concert, is not to see a good show, but be part of it and share good times with people. So, Viva Danilo l’Alpino.

In this other video the interaction between public and orchestra is outstanding. The crowd itself becomes the “stage”, and each spectators holds a sheet with the lyrics of the song that the band is going to perform. The setting is a square of a little city in north Italy, and the song that everybody sing is a classic from Liscio Tradition: “Casa e Chiesa” (litteraly “Home and Church”), a piece that describes the figure of a shy, devoted and beautiful young lady, which the protagonist of the song falls in love with.

The chorus says: “Sei una ragazza tutta casa e chiesa, sei una ragazza come piace a me”, this means: “you are that kind of serious lady who loves going to church any given Sunday, you are the kind of lady who I’d love to marry”. It is an example of how much the “religious factoris present in most of the songs from Italian popular music.  

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United States has Rock’n’Roll, jazz and Blues as traditional music. Spain has the Flamenco, Argentina has the tango and Brazil has the Bossa Nova. Unfortunately Italian popular music is the LISCIO.
In every single bar or dance hall of my country, you can easily hear this kind of music. No matter if you are in the South, in the center or in the west of the Italian peninsula, LISCIO persecutes you in any corner of the country.
The most sad aspect of this situation is that if you are an Italian musician, the only thing you can do to earn some money is to play this music.
And I’m one of those musicians who played Liscio.

Rimini, Rimini, Rimini: The soundtrack of this post”.

It happened during my last year at “La Sapienza” University in Rome.
I needed money for my studies, and at that time the only thing that I was able to do very well was play the guitar.
A friend of mine gave me the opportunity to meet Marco Napoli, the leader of a little Liscio ensemble that was pretty popular in my county.
The name of this orchestra was one of the worst names you can give to a dance-band: “The Cocktail”.
When I met Marco, the first thing that I asked him was: “Why have you chosen this name for your orchestra?”
“You know” he answered me, “when you play Liscio you have to communicate to the audience a feeling of happiness, and a name like The Cocktail suggests to the people something full of colour, of vitality and joy….in other words it suggests Happiness”.
Does it?” I asked doubtfully.
“Yes…Hey wait a moment” he said, “have you got any problem with the name of my band?”
“No, no. I love it, I was just curious about it. That’s all”.
I WAS recruited.

I was the guitarist on the right.

We played for a whole year in a Balera (it is the Italian word to indicate a Liscio Dance Hall) called “Pierrot”.
We used to arrive at the club around nine p.m. and after the sound check, we opened the show with a classic Raul Casadei’s song: “Rimini, Rimini” (Raul Casadei is one of the most important authors in the Liscio tradition).
The crowd started to dance from the first note of that song.
People who love to spend the night in a balera, basically do two kinds of things above all: dance AND drink wine.
This is the reason why often some of them would fall down to the ground completely DRUNK.

A couple of old, drunken customers. They were tireless...

The floor of a balera is literary a pool of sweat, and the owners usually strew it with talcum powder to create a grip for the dancer’s feet; but if you are drunk nothing can save you from falling, even a good “grip”.
I hated the balera’s patrons.
They didn’t show the musicians any kind of respect, and every night someone would join us on the stage (while we were still playing), and say something like: “Have you got Romantica Parigi?” or “Have you got Mutandine di Seta Nera?”; they didn’t ask for a song, they ordered a song, they treated us as if we were waiters instead musicians.
Generally at midnight we stopped playing and the crowd stopped dancing: that was the moment for the Pasta (the balera’s owners used to offer to the customers and the musicians some horrible pasta cooked by their resident chef).
While the customers ate, Marco remained on the stage to announce the winning numbers extracted for the balera’s lottery (each number was followed by a drum roll loop); it was the main event of the night and those who attended it could win: a Prosciutto di Parma as first prize, a shape of Parmigiano Reggiano as second prize and a bottle of wine as third prize.

The main event of the night: The Lottery. Pictures of Italian Culture

After the Lottery the show started again and we kept playing until one o’clock (more or less).
At that hour most of the dancers began to go back home, except the ones that we called: “Tiratardi”; these were the kind of tireless people who could dance from dust till dawn.
We invented a stratagem to set us free from them: we accelerated the bpm of the songs; in doing so they were forced to dance very, very fast.
Generally they collapsed to the floor completely strengthless after two or three minutes.
When all of them went away we descended from the stage.
I used to massage my back and smoke a cigarette while Marco and the other guys, compiled the bourderaux writing down the songs that we had played.
The most exciting moment of the night was certainly when the owner paid the orchestra: one hundred euro for each of us, not a bad wage!
Yes, despite everything, it was pretty cool to play LISCIO.

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