Trinbagonians Celebrate Christmas Parang Style

By: Shama Harrysingh

SOUTH FLORIDA – Along with fruit cake, pastelles, sorrel, ginger beer, punch-ah- crema, ham, pigeon peas and all the goodies that make up a Sunday lunch, parang is an integral part of a true Trini Christmas. The airwaves are flooded with parang spreading the infectious rhythm of this popular Spanish language musical genre across the nation.

School and adult parang singing contests and innumerable parang sessions and fetes characterize the richness of the folk music of Trinidad and Tobago that speak boldly of our Spanish ancestry. Indeed the land of calypso, soca, steelband, chutney and limbo can boast of its unique brand of folk music, parang.

The origin of traditional parang music in Trinidad and Tobago may be attributed to the migration of Spaniards, Amerindians and Africans from Venezuela, whose viceroy ruled Trinidad as well. Many of those immigrants worked on the cocoa plantation in the early years of the nineteenth century and were referred to as “Coco Panyol.’ It was the cocoa paynol on the estates of Lopinot, owned by Count Lopinot, Rancho Quemado, Siparia, Arima, Santa Flora, Moruga, Tabaquite among others that the twelve days of Christmas were celebrated with parang music. It is also believed that parang was sung throughout the year as well. Parang continued to flourish under the British rule from 1814 absorbing elements of Africa from the slaves and French from the French creole planters and their families while retaining its Spanish influence that resulted from the constant interaction between the people of Trinidad and those of Venezuela.

The singers and instrumentalists were known as “parranderos.” The original instruments were the cuatro, a small, four-string guitar, the maracas or chac-chac, the violin, guitar, the claves, locally known as the toc-toc, the box bass, (an indigenous instrument), the tambourine, mandolin, bandolin, caja (a percussive box instrument), and marimbola (an Afro-Venezuelan instrument). In exchange for the entertainment, parranderos were traditionally given food and drink: pastelle, black fruit cake, sorrel, rum and poncha crema or eggnog with alcohol and spices. This musical ensemble was not complete without the proper dress or costume. The women dressed in bright-colored, long flowing skirts and a head gear while the men wore tightly-fitted jackets. In contemporary parang groups, the women’s costumes are much like the traditional but the head gear is not b and the men wear brighlty colored ‘Island Shirt’.

The word parang is a derivative of the Spanish word ‘Parranda’ which means to party or spree and that partying and spreeing has continued to this day. These groups visited friends and neighbors serenading them. They sang, danced, ate, drank and enjoyed themselves. The highlight of the party was the nocturnal visits. Groups waited until their friends and families were asleep then came to serenade them and the friends visited, feeling honored and appreciated, would join in the entertainment. This important element of Trinibagonian Christmas rituals is alive and well.

Traditional parang music includes a variety of song types:

• aguinaldo or serenal: relating to the stories of the nativity of Christ, equivalent to the Western concept of a ‘carol’;

• guarapo: a secular song, often with passages of improvised lyrics where content and length vary according to the skill of the lead singer;

• anunciacion: This song tells of the Angel Gabriel’s visit to Mary telling her that she was chosen to bear the Christ Child.

• nacimiento: This song relates to the actual birth of the child called Jesus Christ

• guarapo: This is a lively song based on any topic.

• Vals (Castillian: This is a secular song with a slow waltz tempo.

• estribillo: a lively call-and-response style song;

• manzanares: a Venezuelan waltz which celebrates the different aspects of the Manzanare River of Cumaná, Venezuela;

• joropo: similar in style to the Spanish waltz;

• galerón: songs from velorios de cruz (veneration of the cross) from the eastern part of Venezuela. The subject of these songs may be history, mythology or religious beliefs.

• picón;

• despedida: a song of farewell and gratitude
Parang continues to grow and it takes the spotlight at Christmas time. Parang music is heard all over the twin Islands, on the radio, television, private homes, on the street corners, in the Christmas parties of government ministries and large corporations many of which have sponsored parang groups. Parang sides, as the groups are sometimes called, can be seen in the villages, at open –air street celebrations and Christmas tree lighting celebrations. The rhythm is energizing and pulsating and it certainly adds to the Christmas cheer. Several Roman Catholic churches celebrate parang masses using songs suited to the service.

In the fifties, when it was detected that parang was slightly on the wane, great effort was put into preserving it and regaining its popularity.

Groups reignited in the villages across the country and instituted an annual parang competition which brings a sense of pride to the villagers. The season begins in September and ends on January 6, the Feast of the Three Kings, (Les Rois in French or the corrupted Trini version, Lay-Wah). This is the Feast of the Epiphany in the Roman Catholic Litugical tradition.

Several persons must be credited with keeping Parang music vibrant and alive today but special tribute should be made to the late Daisy Voisin, parang icon, singer and composer also known as the queen of parang and her La Divina Pastora Parang Group, San Jose Serenaders with lead singer the late Gloria Alcazar, the late Paul Castillo, the Lara Brothers, Papa Goon, Henry Perriera, Santa Rosa Serenaders, Francisca and Philip Allard, Sharlene Flores, and Lennox Flores. In the spotlight today are Los Alumnos de San Juan, Los Tocadores, Los Parranderos de UWI, Los Alumnos de San Juan, Del Caribe, Las Estrellas De Paramin, Los Paramininos, Los Alacranes, Flores de San Jose and many, many others.

A testament to the creativity of the people of Trinidad and Tobago is the fusion of indigenous musical genres with parang. The steelpan now accompanies many parang singers and soca has been fused with parang to emerge as soca-parang for which calypsonian and soca artists The Mighty Scrunter and The Baron must be given full credit. Leon Coldero takes the honors for fusing soca, parang and chutney, an Indian musical genre, into soca-chutney parang.

As is expected, wherever a Trini goes, so does the music. Many Trinibagonians attended
“A Trini Christmas” hosted by Trinidad & Tobago’s Diaspora & T & T citizens of Palm Beach on December 11th 2011 at South Florida Convention Center, Maragate. The Incredible Los Paranderos and DJ Sharmilla gave Trinitobagonians a taste of Christmas away from home. It was “ Well organized “Party Under the Stars”Lovely Venue for any event; Music was well balanced with a variety of artists.

Los Paranderos added a touch of traditional Trini Christmas atmosphere, The Steelband also gave a flavor of the Caribbean with Great raffle prizes, great camaraderie and togetherness!!

Look forward to many more events like this, said “Dr. Peterson who had a great time. “Christmas is my favorite time of the year and listening to live parang music in South Florida brings it home”., said Mr. Pooran Ramnanan. It was a good ‘Parang Lime’.

Paranderos are to be found in Canada where Los Pajaros reigns supreme. Happy Paranderos and Los Paranderos are now South Florida’s pride and joy succeeding Punto Finale led by Ruby Allison Limere of Miami,. Linda Halbert and friends, Mike Andrews, Lana Logan, Roger Parris, Dexter Mayers, Singh’s Roti Delight, Hibiscus Restaurant, Joy’s Roti, Mr. Pooran Ramnanan and the rest of the Runway Crew are among the many organizers of parang fetes ensuring that the true taste of a Trini Christmas is savored by members of the Trinbago diaspora.

Merry Christmas Everyone!!!

Shama Harrysingh

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