Tuesday, December 11, 2007

WE CULTURE - Trinidad Parang Heralds the Christmas Season

by Antoinette Ifill

The genre of music synonymous with the Christmas season in Trinidad and Tobago is the distinctively Latin rhythm known as Parang. The word Parang is derived from the Spanish word “parranda” though Trinidad and Tobago is predominantly English speaking. Thus, the popular opinion is that parang was introduced to the twin islands by Venezuelans who worked on the Cocoa Estates in the 19th century. One would think therefore that to fully enjoy and appreciate parang, knowledge of Spanish is essential. However, Trinidadians have adopted parang giving it a characteristic local flavor which sets it apart from parang music throughout the Caribbean. From mid October to early January it is the music that dominates radio, television, office parties and even a trip to the mall, clearly Spanish not being the first language of these islands does not diminish the appeal of parang which is now a Christmas tradition.

With my paternal grandfather being from Venezuela, parang holds special meaning to me since as a child my first memories of parang music are of the paranderos (a parang band), which often comprised several of my uncles playing various instruments, invading our home on Christmas Day. The custom is to welcome the paranderos with a feast of food and drinks; in return your home is blessed with song for as long as the refreshments keep coming, when it has been exhausted the band moves on to serenade another host. Today this tradition is all but lost except in smaller rural communities, and when friends “give you a parang” for Christmas it is usually to a raid the Christmas victuals and grog!

Parang’s popularity has increased in the last twenty eight years with the advent of “soca parang”, a melding of English limerick with the infectious tempo associated with the cuatro, mandolin, box bass, scratcher and chac chac which together produce the beat that is parang. The champion of this brand of melody being Calypsonian Scrunter, renowned for producing several soca parang hits each Christmas season, even though critics have lambasted some Soca Parang artistes for the sexual innuendos used in the lyrics. Also infusing verve into an old tradition is marrying melodies of other cultures such as the East Indian Chutney songs into the harmony of parang. It is this revolutionizing of parang which makes it even more popular today as there is an established National Parang Association in Trinidad with parang competitions held nationwide from the month of September culminating in the grand finals in December.

For the advent of innovative parang, exclusive to Trinidad and Tobago, the established mode of parang is still prevalent with paranderos whose themes are hinged on religion and Christianity. This is the parang music one associates with the late Parang Queen, Daisy Voisin, who always performed with a plastic bouquet of flowers, which became her signature. To attest to the esteem still placed on conventional parang, there are 82 established parang bands performing in Trinidad and Tobago, among them eminent paranderos such as the Lara Brothers, La Divina Pastora and Los Ninos del Mundo.

Parang to Trinidad Christmas is as much a staple as black cake, ponche a crème, sorrel and pastelle, and remains a popular art form illustrating the Hispanic heritage which is part of the multi-ethnic populace of Trinidad and Tobago. Even as I sit at my desk, writing this article, the strains of Es El Tiempo's “Chinee Parang” drift through the windows from the neighbor’s radio playing at full blast. And I think to myself, where else in the world can one enjoy an English song, sung to a Spanish Beat, infused with local soca music and the subject a pun on native Chinese people! Trinidad parang has clearly developed over the years, but for all the progress I would one day hope to see a resurgence of the traditions of the past where paranderos would spread the joy of Christmas from one home to another, just like my uncles did when I was a child.

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