Parang, the Spanish Soundtrack to a True Trini Christmas
At first listen or glance, you might think that today’s featured video was shot in Cuba, Puerto Rico, or some other corner of the Spanish Caribbean. Yes, they’re singing in Spanish, and the scene is most certainly tropical, but this joyous jam session actually depicts the quintessential Holiday Season musical tradition in Trinidad & Tobago. It’s called Parang, and like Carib, roti and Calypso, it’s Trini to de bone!
Never mind that the video was shot in May for the Cruz de Mayo Festival, Parang has long been the soundtrack of the Christmas season in Trinidad & Tobago, and it’s increasingly becoming a mainstay of the Holidays in other parts of the southern Caribbean as well. The music has roots in Venezuela, brought over by migrants who came to Trinidad in the early 1800’s to work the country’s cocoa plantations. Over the years, Parang developed its uniquely Trinidadian accents, borrowing from a number of cultures along the way. From Wikipedia:
Parang flourished under the British rule from 1814. It absorbed elements of African and French creole and was influenced by the constant interaction between the people of Trinidad and those of Venezuela, where similar musical forms developed in parallel.
Parang season in Trinidad & Tobago actually starts in late-September or October and stretches all the way to Three Kings Day, January 6th. Groups get together and start practicing during the early part of the season. In the old days, the weeks leading up to Christmas would see Paranderos going from house to house, waking neighbors with their performances in hopes of being rewarded with sorrel, black cake or ponche de creme.
These days, national competitions are held crowning the best Parang performers along the lines of the Calypso Tent competitions held during the Carnival Season.
Another more recent development is the advent of different forms of Parang, which have sprung up appealing more directly to the various ethnic groups in Trinidad. Soca Parang, for instance, melds the two popular musical forms and features lyrics in English. There’s also Chutney Parang, which draws upon the country’s Indian heritage and is often sung in Hindi.
For real, authentic Parang, though, nothing but Spanish will do. The video features Paul Hernandez singing Rio Manzanares, a longtime Parang standard, with the legendary Clarita Rivas playing the cuatro, a small four-string guitar essential to Parang music. Clarita was crowned the first-ever National Parang Queen in 1971. She lost her singing voice at the young age of 23 when her tonsils were removed, so this is a very special performance.
Unfortunately, classic Parang from the likes of Clarita and others are hard to find outside of Trinidad. Some of the best I’ve found recently is by the Lara Brothers. Click here to check out their playlist on iTunes.