I know that saying Karaoke in Italy is the worst thing in the world might be a bit inflammatory but I’m here to drop truth bombs al la Tracy Morgan so I’m sticking with it.
I suppose I should preface this all and tell you exactly WHY karaoke here is so horrendous here and WHY you should avoid it like the plague if ever given the chance.
It all started some years ago when one of my good friends and I discovered that a bar beside the pizzeria we were at was having a karaoke night. What fun! We decided that instead of going home, we should at least pop-in for a quick drink and maybe a song or two and made our way inside and then to a table near the front.
We ordered a drink and sat back to listen. The first song went by, sappy Italian power love song, the second song went by, sappy Italian power love song, the THIRD song went by, sappy Italian power love song; we started to notice a trend.
Forget the fact that all the songs were in Italian (we ARE in Italy after all), but all of the “vocalists” were really, really, really, into their performances, something we found quite amusing considering the venue – a mostly empty, dark bar on a school night with a smattering of audience members who appeared to be regulars.
Nevertheless we chalked it up to “la bella vita”, finished our drinks, and left with the intentions of coming back for people watching another time.
Fast forward two years and one of my dear Canadian friends here invited me to her annual birthday party (wink, wink, I see what you did there Richardson, you sly dawg you) which was being held at a restaurant we were all familiar with, but (un)fortunately under new management.
The menu was “a go-go” (Italian for, “cheap and we’ll fill you full of bread, pizza and house wine”) and there was, much to my
chagrin delight, karaoke slated for later in the evening.
Now, I’m not a party pooper, per se, but when the lights dim to near obscurity while you’re eating, AND the dials on the speakers are turned up to eleven, then, well, OK, I’m a party pooper. Still though, I’m working on my social skills so I just started drinking more.
I haven’t yet described this restaurant for you, and in all honesty, I don’t really want to because since the management changed, this once delightful, family run absolute treasure with delicious food and familial ties to one of the most well known artistic styles to come out of Viareggio since “Liberty” has really gone downhill. Suffice it to say that the restaurant is not that big, there are seats for between 50-70 diners with enough room between them to sneak a taste off your neighbour’s plate without being noticed. It’s quaint though.
We had our large group along one of the walls when the singing started and this pretty much put a stop to the “a go-go”. Everyone knows that you shouldn’t eat right before going on stage, it’s not good for your voice.
Unfortunately for the talent of the evening, we were there to celebrate our friend’s birthday, and that meant talking amongst ourselves at the table.
We even stood up and started mingling around a bit. What with the karaoke going on, and a disco light, and people singing between tables, the atmosphere felt more like a pub than a restaurant. No problem though, we adapted.
When Pitbull’s “Don’t Stop the Party” came on during one of the intermissions, we leapt from our seats to sing along and, OK, maybe our dancing got a little carried away with our 90’s style “bend over and spank” movements, etc but I can’t imagine that was the ONLY reason why they abruptly turned the song off and played something more, Italian.
They did let us sing Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” though. That was fun.
After our performance we returned to our table, though at this point we were no longer sitting, and continued to chat.
The next song queued up.
A few bars of introduction.
A short, wiry, middle aged man grabbed the mic, took a deep breath, focused, gazed into the middle distance, and let out the first few notes of his chosen masterpiece.
We took no notice. We were there to celebrate our friend’s birthday. And not only that, we had grown up in another culture where Karaoke Night is merely an opportunity to get up and have some fun but is by no means a right to hold an audience hostage. I never paid for a ticket.
As soon as the artist knew he had 4 bars of silence he approached us and said, “Excuse me. Would you mind not talking while I’m singing, they can’t hear me.”
I looked at my conversation partner, another expat (American though, poor thing, HA!) she looked at me. We both said, “Mi scusi?”
He repeated himself, we were distracting the audience.
We once again made eye contact and burst out laughing, incredulous.
However, even though my friend was not blessed to have been born a Canadian, she did grow up a North American which usually means we have at least a bit of manners, so we stopped talking and instead took to messaging each other on Whatsapp.
“No, YOU shhhhh!”
“They can’t hear me sing.”
“You’re distracting everyone with your typing.”
After realizing that our side eye, tea sipping, hilarious comments were not appreciated, we went outside to chat with some of the other party members, and then, shortly after, we left.
I can still hear the slightly off-key notes of Volare in my dreams.