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What is Parang?

 

Parang Trinidad’s traditional Christmas music.

So it’s that time of the year…again.

Anticipation builds as we approach this blessed time of the year, as shops showcase their wares, enticing the would-be shopper to peruse the many items on sale. Festive songs fill the air and many of us feel the season whenever we hear the heart warming sounds of parang. Many rush to stock up on the Christmas essentials, like the curtains, paint and foodstuffs. To many, this all goes into ushering in the season….

But what, exactly, is parang?

The term Parang is initially derived from the Spanish word ‘parranda’, which means festivities or a fête. Usually consisting of a group of four or more men and women who would perform at any event, such as a christening or a birthday celebration, the group would sing along to the accompaniment of musical instruments. Here, in Trinidad, parang came to generally mean the songs that were sung in traditional Spanish, especially during the Christmas season. In many areas throughout Trinidad, people still sing and perform this art form, not limiting parang to only this time, but through out the year.

There are two theories about the origins of parang in Trinidad. The first is that the custom was brought to the island by the Spanish colonists who ruled Trinidad from 1498-1797. It continued to flourish under British rule, due in part by constant interaction between the people of Trinidad and those of Venezuela, Spain and other parts of the Spanish Main. Known as ‘parranda navideña’, which means Christmas parang, this art form was sung by Spanish Roman Catholics, celebrating the birth of the Christ Child.

The second theory suggests that the custom came from Venezuela during the Spanish occupation. The cocoa panyols (cocoa planters) came from different parts of East Venezuela to work on the cocoa plantations in Trinidad and brought with them this aspect of their culture. They would celebrate any major occasion with wine and song, making merry long into the night. But because they held Christmas in such high reverence they sang more solemn songs. This was also done for Easter, Corpus Christi and other Catholic holidays, with the words changed to fit the significance of the celebration. As time went by, many of their descendants took parang to the different parts of the island, mixing it with influences from other cultures. Whatever its origins, parang has now become an integral part of the cultural landscape of Trinidad and Tobago.

Parang has become synonymous with merrymaking at Christmas time. Groups of musicians called ‘parranderos’ would go from house to house entertaining members of that household. These visits usually involve singing and dancing as well as the sharing of food and drink. Today, this type of social ‘paranging’ only occurs in a few areas in Trinidad. The main cultural centers for parang are at Arima, St. Ann’s, Santa Cruz, St. Joseph, Paramin, Caura, Mausica, Lopinot, San Raphael and Rio Claro. Upon observing the geological locations of these places, one would find they still support many Spanish and French Creole descendants, many of whom still adhere to the ways of their forefathers in many regards.

The official parang season runs from October to January 6th (The Day of the Kings or Dia de los Reyes). Note though, that it is not exclusive to this time frame alone, as some places carry the tradition throughout the year. During this period, various parang groups take part in competitions organized by the National Parang Association of Trinidad and Tobago (NPATT) culminating in Lewah (Les Rois), the feast of the Kings.

Categories of Parang Songs

The songs that are sung at this time may sound similar to the untrained ear, but there are many different types of songs sung at any one point in time. They also differ in their nature or their message, depending on the topic being sung about. Listed below are a few of the more commonly sung types of parang:

Serenal or Aguinaldo Nosotros Tenemos. (Serenade)

The most commonly sung form of parang. Parranderos usually announce their arrival with song, hoping that the spirit and goodwill of the season gets them entry to the homes of family and friends as they relate the story of the Nativity (birth of Christ), and to share in the joy of the message of Peace on Earth and Goodwill towards all men.

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 type of song relates the events of the actual birth of the child Jesus Christ.

Guarapo

This is a lively song based on any topic.

Joropo

Song similar in style to the Spanish waltz, it is used primarily for dancing.

Manzanare

A Manzanare is a Venezuelan waltz celebrating different things about the Manzanare river of Cumana, Venezuela. This is the least known type of parang, and is rarely performed here.

Estribillo

An Estribillo is a very lively sing-along song in which you call and answer. Primarily sung during birthdays, anniversaries and other festive occasions, it often incorporates the involvement of the entire family.

Despedida (Vamos, Vamos, Vamos)

This is a song performed to give thanks to the joy of sharing, and to say farewell to the host, until next Christmas.

Parang Instruments

The instruments used by parang bands are representative of the many cultures that are part of our heritage. Amerindian, African and European influences are all visible in the modern parang ensemble. It is now quite difficult to identify any one group of instruments as the 'core' of the parang band. Traditionally, however, most bands would have some combination of the following instruments: the Cuatro, a simple four stringed guitar, mandolin, tiple, violin, bandolin, guitar, box bass, maracas or "chac chac", wood block, known locally as claves or "tock tock". Contemporary bands have also included other instruments such as the flute, the scratcher (picture a grater being ‘scratched’), the electric bass, some Latin percussions and our very own steel pan. Outlined below are brief descriptions of the major instruments used by parang bands:

The Bandol or Bandola: A Stringed instrument approximately 85 x 30 cms,it possesses four double strings. Two of the base strings are made of metal and two are made of gut or nylon while the four treble strings are all made of gut or fine nylon as well. Defined as a flat-backed lute from Central and South America, it is traditionally used by musicians in neighboring Venezuela and Colombia, and as such, has been incorporated into our very own culture.

The Box Bass: This wooden instrument, native to Trinidad, provides the bass accompaniment for parang. It consists of a square or rectangular box about eighteen to twenty inches high with a hole cut near the top, six inches in diameter at its centre. A detachable pole is then positioned on one corner of the top of the box. From the centre of the box a string of nylon or jute is attached to the top of the pole. Notes are achieved by varying the angle of the pole and moving the fingers, which depresses the string along the pole. The sound is emitted through the hole in the front of the box.

Cello (violoncello): The cello is a stringed instrument and part of the violin family. The cello is much larger than a violin, and unlike that instrument, is played in an upright position between the legs of the seated musician, resting on a metal spike. The player draws his or her bow horizontally across the strings

Claves (tock tock): Concussion instruments of Cuban origin consisting of two cylindrical hardwood sticks measuring from 20 to 25 cm in length and from 2.5 to 3 cm in diameter (“Claves”). They are struck in time with the music keeping rhythm to the group.

Cuatro: An instrument from the guitar family, found primarily in South America and the West Indies. The small Cuatro of Venezuela has four strings, (hence the name), the strings was traditionally made of gut but now crafted mostly out of nylon.

Güiro (scratcher): A percussion instrument consisting of an open-ended, hollow gourd with parallel notches cut in one side. It is played by rubbing a wooden stick along the notches to produce a rasping sound. The right hand usually holds the scrapper (or pua) and the left hand holds the guiro itself with the thumb inserted into the back sound hole. It is believed to have originated among the Arawak and spread amongst the peoples of the Caribbean, Central and South America.

Guitar: A stringed instrument of the lute family, it is usually played by plucking or strumming, using the fingers or a plectrum or pick. Most parang groups still use the traditional box or acoustic guitar and it is still played in a Spanish style.

Mandolin /Bandolin: Many musical experts suggest that there is some debate about the distinction between these two instruments. Some consider them to be synonymous while others claim that the flat-backed version of the instrument is called the mandolin and the bowled bodied one is known as the bandolin. Many music reference texts seem to support this first theory.

Mandolin – A small plucked wire-string instrument … it has four double courses of strings, tuned g-d′-a′-e″ (like the violin), and a deeply bowled body. Modern variants have a flat or gently curved back but a wider pear-shaped body and sometimes an arched belly and f-shaped sound holes.

Bandolin – Any of several types of small pear-shaped, fretted string instruments plucked with a plectrum, quill or the fingers. Variations include the flat-backed Bandolin, encountered primarily in North and South America. Traditionally, it is believed that this instrument was first made using the shell of a large turtle.

Maracas (chac-chac or “shak-shak”): A pair of small gourd rattlers usually made from the fruit of the calabash tree. The dried fruit is then hollowed out and the naturally dried seeds of the fruit, Bakelite or metal contain beads, small rounded pebbles, or any similar rattling pieces are then sealed into the gourd. Sound is made whenever the gourds are shook or rattled.

Violin: A stringed instrument played with a bow, having four strings tuned at intervals of a fifth, an unfretted fingerboard, and a shallower body than the viol and capable of great flexibility in range, tone, and dynamics.

Wood Block: This is related to the rectangular wooden slit-drums that are used as time-beaters by the Han Chinese ... The orchestral wood block is generally in the form of a rectangular block of teak or similar heavy hardwood with one or sometimes two slotted longitudinal cavities. The tone of this small instrument is resonant and penetrating ...It is struck on the surface or the edge above the slot with wooden drumsticks or beaters.


 

Last Updated (Thursday, 10 December 2009 13:40)

 
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