Tuesday, December 11, 2007

WE SPOTLIGHT - Dance De Parang: Los Pajaros is heating up Toronto

By Krysta Celestine

On a cold winter evening, hundreds gather inside Shangri-La, a popular banquet hall in Toronto’s east end. Despite the cold weather, it’s hot inside. In here, no one is a stranger. It’s more of a “lime” than a concert (hence the name, Joan Alexander’s Annual Parang Lime), and the crowd is anxiously waiting to kick off the Christmas season with good friends, food, drinks, and of course—no Christmas lime would be complete without it—parang.

The house is packed, and one cannot help but get up and dance to the pulsating rhythms of the cuatro (a four-string small guitar), mandolins, and shak-shaks.

Los Pajaros, the Brampton, Ontario based parang group, is one of the many electrifying groups featured this evening. Their name, which translates to “The Birds” in Spanish, is a family-based group that has been performing since 1994. Their love for parang is nothing new, says Glen Cassar, a lead vocalist and cuatro player. He has been a “parrandero” (a person who plays parang), since his early teens in Sangre Grande, Trinidad. In 1973, he was a founding member of Los Tocadores, a local parang group which still exists in Trinidad today. After migrating to Canada in 1989, he married into what he calls a “parang-loving family” from Mon Diablo, Trinidad.

The idea to form an “official” band came when the group, then five members, went to Miami for Christmas in 1993. Cuatros and mandolins in tow, the group gave an impromptu performance to an enthusiastic crowd. The demand was so high, says Glen, that the group decided to make an official name for the group. “We thought, why don’t we become a bit more organized?” he says, recalling the day. The group has been popular ever since, performing at Christmas shows in Southern Ontario, Miami, New York, Ottawa, and Atlanta.

The members of the band, now 13 in total, pride themselves on being a family group, boasting 3 generations of family. “Bass, the eldest member of the group, has a daughter and a grandson in the band and there is a fair amount of youth in the group,” says Glen.

Los Pajaros prefers traditional parang—in the vein of parang queen, Daisy Voisin—as opposed to the ever-popular parang soca, which has been popular since the 1980s. Glen says, “Changes happen along the way with music, so the fusion of the parang with calypso is here to stay.” It’s not that they dislike the fusion, but he cautions, parang soca (sung in a combination of English and Spanish, unlike its Spanish language counterpart), often strays from the traditional Christmas message. The group also stays away from doing Latin music, which has become increasingly popular in recent years.

Los Pajaros released their first CD, aptly titled “Dance de Parang”, last month. The CD draws its inspiration from parang greats such as Voisin, Sylvestre Mata and Henry Pereira, and there’s also a bit of parang soca in there. The CD, released first to the Trinidad and Tobago Consulate office in Toronto, can now be found at Christmas shows, and online at cdbaby.com.

In terms of where he sees parang going in the future, Glen notes that while there is so little of it in North America, parang is very much alive in Trinidad, where there are lots of groups and parang festivals every weekend. The mission of the band, Glen says, is to promote parang music and to keep it alive. So far, Los Pajaros has done a great job of doing so.

For more information on Los Pajaros, and upcoming shows, log on to: www.myspace.com/lospajaroscanada or http://www.lospajaros.ca/

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