There is a season for strawberries and apples, there is a season for carnival and bacchanal, and there is a season for sorrel and parang. When talking about Christmas and Christmas music, most of us might think of a “Silent Night”; a red-coated advertisment icon of a USA – based soda company, riding a horse sleigh; or even worse.
Anyway, in many cultures and countries the end of December stands for celebrating, spending time with friends and family, and of course rich food – no matter if you refer to the birth of the Christ, solstice or any other religious event. Also in Trinidad & Tobago in the Caribbean: people move from house to house, visiting neighbors and friends, accompanied by Parang bands.
Parang band playing in someone’s living room.
Parang and its modern version Parang Soca is the seasonal music in Trinidad. Migration movements brought these sounds from Venezuela to Trinidad where it is known as Parranda. Spanish speaking communities in Trinidad preserved this music for many decades. Until today, Parang is sung in Spanish interpreting old Venezuelan folk songs.
The band Voces Jovenes playing traditional Parang.
While many parang bands and also the National Parang Association Trinidad And Tobago (NPATT) are keeping this music in its traditional form alive, the younger generations usually can’t relate so much to the hispanic roots of the music. No surprise that Parang crossovered with the most popular music from Trinidad: Soca.
Parang Soca is more or less using the original instrumentation of Parang: the Venezuelan Cuatro (4 string instrument similar to the Ukulele), mandoline, guitar and percussion like shak shak (as they call the cabasa in Trinidad), toc toc (a very dominant tonewood which is used as metronome), maracas, and finally a bass box (hand crafted one string bass attached to a wooden box). These traditional instruments are embedded into Soca music, moving from a very syncopated 6/8 beat to a straighter uptempo Soca beat.
Finally the lyrics are mostly in English, talking about more common topics – such as: drinking rum, rich pork dishes, ginger bread, sorrel (traditional alcoholic beverage made out of hibiscus), hanging out with the loved ones at the neighbor’s house and so on – spiced with a generous portion of humor.
Parang Soca anno 2005 – Christmas Riddim medley with Various Artists
Parang Soca from this year with Spanish and English lyrics
But enough for the theory part – let’s be merry and grab a drink, have some cookies and enjoy Parang which will put you in the right festive mood. I fell in love with Parang a decade ago and the love returns each year in September with the official NPATT Parang Season opening – even though I met people in a random rum bar in Port of Spain who sing parang the whole year as soon as enough drinks are involved. Anyway, I’ve put together a 80min mix of new and older Parang Soca. Blast this at your Christmas celebration and enjoy!