Tuesday, December 11, 2007

WE SPOTLIGHT - Los Amigos – Friends Passing on the Culture

By Monica Joseph-McIntyre

Los Amigos is a Toronto-based parang group that is keeping Trinidad and Tobago’s traditional Christmas music alive. In Trinidad and Tobago, Christmas without parang would be like having a rum punch without the rum, or the traditional Caribbean “black cake” without the fruits.
Parang -- from the Spanish word “parranda” for merry-making -- is the music played by a group of singers and musicians who move from house to house in T&T, serenading family and friends while being greeted at each house with food and drinks. It is a melodic Venezuelan folk music that has rhythmic similarities to calypso. Los Amigos brings a taste of the music reminiscent of a Caribbean Christmas to expatriates in Toronto.

The 12-member band was formed in 2004, when a group of musician-friends who loved parang got together to preserve the art form here in Toronto.

“Our goal is to keep the tradition of parang music at Christmas alive, and to introduce parang to a younger audience,” says Jamal Ramsumair a.k.a. “Dubble Impack,” the band’s sound technician and spokesperson, who also DJ’s in between sets. “Right now parang is mainly for the older generation of Trinidadians and Tobagonians. They are the ones who grew up with parang and appreciate the music, but the older folks will eventually pass on, so we have to make sure that the tradition of parang music at Christmas is carried on.”

The band’s influences come from the traditional parang groups in Trinidad including the Lara Brothers, La Divina Pastora, San Jose Serenaders, and Daisy Voisin, among many others. They have also been influenced by soca-parang, a fusion of calypso, soca and parang sung by artists like Crazy and Scrunter. Some years ago, artists mixed chutney melodies (soca blended with East Indian music) with parang to create chutney-parang. Los Amigos plays all the different genres of parang, as well as some Latin tunes, and this year they have added some original music composed by one of the band members.

Bandleader and bass player, Fabien Torres, comes from a family of musicians and parang singers, known as “parenderos.” His father led the Unicos, once a popular parang band in Trinidad. Other instruments in the band include cuatro, mandolin, maracas and congas, which give parang its unique flavour. There is also a tenor pan, which adds a touch of steel to the musical ensemble. There are four vocalists including Toronto calypsonian Connector.
Ramsumair says the band’s music is aimed at not just Trinidadians who are familiar with the music, but their children, grandchildren, and people from the other Caribbean islands, and the wider community. “We want to make it so that everybody can enjoy the music,” Ramsumair says.

This year the band has as many as 20 bookings for the Christmas season, playing two or three gigs every weekend. “Los Amigos is the most hired parang band in Toronto,” Ramsumair says.
The band recently released its first CD, “Old Time Christmas,” and on December 15th, will host its own Christmas show at Northern Tropics, in Scarborough.

“We are bringing a real Trini Christmas with all the traditional Christmas foods: pastels, ginger beer, ham and hops,” Ramsumair says.

For more info visit www.myspace.com/losamigosband

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