Sunday, December 19, 2010

Merry Trini Christmas-Parang

Way long ago when I first started this blog I used to do a weekly Trini Tuesday post to share some aspect of Trinidadian culture.  Today I'm going to reprise a post or two from the early days because I'm fairly certain most of you have never read it and I'm somewhat in need of posting material.  It won't be on a Tuesday this time though because I thought the content would be good for a getting us all moving on a Monday morning.

Allow me to introduce you to some of the sounds of Christmas in Trinidad. I have to admit when I lived there and December rolled around and the weather was still in the upper 80s and I heard Walking in a Winter Wonderland I almost split a gut laughing. When I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas played on the radio I thought, "Keep dreaming." When I was chatting with neighbors I mentioned the incongruity of living tropically and hearing such songs. We shared a giggle over that, discussed real snow, and then they asked me if I had heard any parang music yet. They told me parang was the real Christmas music of Trinidad, not all that Bing Crosby and Burl Ives stuff. Well, now I HAD to learn about it!


There is some debate as to the true origins of parang music. Some say it was brought directly by the Spanish colonizers. Others are inclined to believe it came along with imported cocoa plantation workers from Venezuela. Either way it is clearly a Spanish influence that is deeply ingrained in Trinidad. Parang comes from the spanish parranda. meaning the merrymaking of the musicians. In the most traditional forms of parang all the songs are sung in Spanish even though the language is really not spoken at all on the island. Many of the instruments, though not all, are common to Spanish music.

Parang season (yes there is a season) runs from October (I'm ok, with it being this early, honest I am, it's not crass commercialism down there) to January 6, which is Feast Day for the 3 Kings (Les Rois, a French name that ends the Spanish music season on an island populated by Africans and Indians...I LOVE that). As with so many things in Trinidad, there are competitions to crown the champion parang bands. The competitions were begun as a way to revive a tradition that had begun to die out prior to independence.

In days past, parang bands would circulate through neighborhoods much the way we see Christmas carollers in the USA. The bands would have 4-6 singers and instruments of all sorts. Guitars, violins, mandolins and cuatros, maracas, scrapers and wood blocks, and box basses (imagine a hillbilly instrument, the upside down washtub with a pole and string coming out the top so it could be plucked, box bass is similar)and pollitos (sort of a wooden castanet) are all common parang instruments. The bands would announce themselves with an aguinaldo song and relate the story of Christ's birth. More sacred themed songs would be sung, perhaps later a call and answer type piece of music or a salsa or waltz would be played so all the revelers could enjoy a dance. Tasty treats would be shared. Finally a despedida or departing song of thanks and well wishes would be sung.

Eventually the parang bands became a bit more stationary and parties were organized around a favorite band and the revellers would come to them. Still the music was sung in Spanish and the same styles of songs prevailed. It simply allowed a good Trini fete to go on late into the night. In more recent times, styles have diversified. Soca-Parang, which is sung in English, has become popular especially as a tourist ploy since it carries more North-American themes. And not to be left out, the Indians have added their instruments, themes, and musical patterns to the mix to create Chutney-Parang.

Now for your listening and viewing pleasure some parang.

Here is a fun one I remember from when we lived in Trinidad. It wouldn't allow embedding but go listen to them sing 'Bring Out De Ham.'


Craig said...

See, now that's just entirely too much fun, all in one place. . . ;)

(and something about the left-handed mandolin player just makes me smile. . .)

One of my enduring memories from my college days is walking by the dorm where the foreign grad students stayed, during the first snow of a given season. All the 'southern hemisphere' guys, who had never seen live snow in their lives, would be out on the lawn, taking photos of each other. . .

G-Man said...

You Lived in Trinidad?

Cricket said...

Love that "Bring Out De Ham." And ham, itself. Bring it on... a nice Christmas ham, though I still maintain that the appropriate meal for Christmas is goose. My wife has other thoughts on the matter.

She and I have a sort of standing joke about ham. She insists, with some seriousness, that she doesn't care for ham. Yet whenever I serve it, she picks at it before it's served, eats it with a fair amount of gusto, and goes back for seconds. If I call this, um... odd behavior to her attention, she insists she doesn't like ham.

Funny you mention White Christmas. That song has a little known or performed intro, where the lyrics talk about being in California, and how it doesn't feel like Christmas in Beverly Hills, LA. Then the main part begins "I'm dreaming of a White Christmas...."

Sort of makes more sense that way. I think it may have been cut from the Bing Crosby arrangement for time considerations, to fit the song on a 78. Then the song became a hit, and it was forgotten pretty much forever.

Suldog said...

ANY Christmas song that features ham is pretty much a sure thing to be a hit with me. And this one didn't disappoint.

I love how different people weave fun into the sacred in their own unique ways. The world is such a joyous place at times. Thanks for showing me this side of that happiness.

Anonymous said...

I thought parang was the sound made when daffy duck was hit in the head with a frying pan...

Beach Bum aka Captain Barbossa said...

That's my kind of Christmas music!