My Neighbor’s Serenade

Jorge Milanés Despaigne

Sitting in the front room of our house, we were watching the nine o’clock soap opera when suddenly we heard an unusual sound. We went out onto the porch where an intense wave of emotion swept over us all.

In the street were seven young guys dressed up in Mariachi outfits complete with musical instruments. They were playing an old Mexican ballad that normally goes: “These are the mornings that King David sang”; but in their version they sang: “These are the nights that King David sang.”

I immediately realized that they were serenading my neighbor, who was visiting here in Cuba and was spending her last night with her family.

While they sang that melody, recollections of my childhood flowed. I recalled my grandmother telling me about how my grandfather serenaded her, playing and singing music on the portico of her house.

As for me, I could only conjure up images from old Mexican and Argentinean films, since this was the first time I had ever enjoyed something so unusual live, right in front of me.

The melody of the trio of trumpets, along with the other instruments, floated across the whole neighborhood. From other blocks came more residents running to see and hear the youths close up as they masterfully performed songs from the archives of our memories.

“A serenade! That must cost a fortune!” commented some members of my generation, fascinated.

The tears of the oldest people began to gush, running down their cheeks uncontrolled. Camera flashes also played their part. From the balcony a nocturnal pageant illuminated the septet as a rainstorm of applause sustained the musical number.

They interpreted several pieces this way, while those present couldn’t stop murmuring about the price tag for that evening.

I walked over to the driver of the car that had brought the Mariachis and I asked him the price of a gift of this size. He responded, “Only 120.00 CUC ($150 USD) for one hour” – a true fortune in today’s Cuba.