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Parang: A Christmas Tradition

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A charismatic form of Christmas folk music from Venezuela and Trinidad and Tobago, Parang was invented some centuries ago. The word parang is a derivative of the Spanish word “parranda” which refers to merrymaking. Parang are songs in Spanish, usually about Mary (Maria) and the Natividad (birth of Jesus), though there are various types covering different contexts. Instruments consist mainly of violin, cuatro, maracas, mandolin, bandolin, clave, box bass and flute. In more recent times, the electric bass and steelpan have been sometimes incorporated. Parang is traditionally performed by parranderos, a group of musicians who go from house to house, singing and playing in exchange for food and drink. Some pastel, sweetbread, ponche a crème or a shot of rum is greatly appreciated. Laughter and conversation with the occupants of the home ensue before the parranderos move onto the next home and repeat the process. So you can imagine how these musicians must feel after 4 hours of serenading. Pretty merry and belly full to buss!

Parang is a beautiful tradition, rooted in the spirit of altruism and kinship. Parranderos are often very poor, yet refuse to accept money for their serenades. Parang comes from the heart, for love of music, having a good time and religious deference for the spiritual tradition of Christmas. Fortunately, this folk music has grown in popularity, especially in the latter portion of the 20th century, fuelled by the advent of independent record labels plus performances broadcast by the now defunct TTT; Trinidad and Tobago Television. Spicy subgenres that have sprung up include soca parang and chutney parang, often about humorous topics in typical Trinidadian vernacular.

Due to the increasing crime rate in Trinidad and Tobago, I’ve heard that parranderos have drastically decreased their serenading. In the rural villages of Lopinot, Paramin and Arima, parang serenading is still practiced in the relative safety of tightknit communities. For parang lovers at large, there are local Parang festivals, competitions and concerts that are well-attended by the general public. Even expats living abroad in North America can enjoy the occasional concert by touring parranderos during the holiday season.

Parang has a complex history, fusing elements of West African and Latin American musicality to create an enduring artform  that has widespread, multigenerational appeal. Frankenrӓver presents a small selection of recorded classics for your enjoyment. Take time off from your hectic holiday schedule to appreciate parang while remembering to enjoy the simple pleasures  – good times, love, laughter, – embodied by this dynamic artform.

Beloved classic “Alegría Alegría” by Trinidad’s Queen of Parang, Daisy Voisin holds a place of affection in many people’s hearts. One of the most recognizable voices in parang, Daisy Voisin was known for her sweet intonation, inspired whoops “Aiee aiee!”and her bouquet, which she held in one hand as she sang, danced and twirled her extravagant skirts. A staunch traditionalist who focused on the religious aspect of parang, Daisy Voisin performed parang entirely in Spanish backed by her band, La Divina Pastora Serenaders. I was fortunate to have seen her in concert and was touched by her humility, passion and devotion to her craft, though her financial difficulties were evident. Daisy Voisin has one of the most moving voices I have ever heard and is a stellar example of a beautiful human being. She paved the way for other musicians to have successful careers recording parang in subsequent generations and deserves far more recognition for her cultural and social contributions.

Recorded by calypsonian Crazy (Edwin Ayoung) and released in 1980, “Muchacha” was an instant hit, gaining heavy rotation on local airwaves. This upbeat number fuses soca with salsa, parang, and some pop elements via synths. The result is a bright, sparkly song filled with the trademark humour Crazy is known for. “Muchacha” is a prime example of contemporary parang featuring English lyrics. Crazy holds the distinction for pioneering new forms of soca, including soca parang and Trini-style reggae. He was a very energetic performer whose distinctively long, voluminous hair  and colourful stage presence mesmerized audiences back in the day and he’s still active now in his 70’s.

“Latin Parang” by Colleen Grant is a most unusual composition. It’s what I’d call disco parang. The looped, salsa-style arrangement of congas, claps, synths and vocals against a mid-tempo backdrop make Latin Parang a very progressive song, coming as it did on the tail-end of the disco era (1980). Essentially, it is dance music with an ambitious arrangement, performed by an obscure singer from Trinidad. Colleen Grant’s quirky Spanish pronunciation of ¡Que me gusta cantar! in the chorus is delightfully haunting, ensuring this hidden musical gem continues to fascinate rare groove aficionados decades on.

Copyright © 2017 Frankie Diamond. All rights reserved. Excerpts of less than 200 words may be published to another site, including a link back to the original article. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety and posted to another site without the express permission of the author.

 

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