Parang I: The Origins of Trinidad’s Parang Music

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Parang music is one of Trinidad and Tobago’s folk music that seems in a remarkable way to stay true to its original form, unlike other local genres of music. This first part of the article will look at the origin of Parang music and how the changing culture of Trinidad and Tobago affects this art form. The second part will look at this form of music, its distinct qualities, and the role it plays in the Trinidad’s society.

The Festive Parang Music

In Trinidad and Tobago there are diverse genres of music. Some of these genres are seasonal, while others transcend the various seasons. One seasonal music is Parang music, particularly referred to as Trinidad’s Christmas carol, that is mostly played and enjoyed around the Christmas time. This festive Christmas season begins in mid-October and ends around January 6, at the Feast of Epiphany.

Origins of Parang Music

The word “parang” derives from the Spanish verb “parrandear” which means to go out to town to have a good time. And that is just what this music represents. The liveliness of the music is contagious and it can have you swaying in a blink of an eye.

Parang music reflects its gentle beginnings. Though the real origin of this music has been lost in time there seems to be two trains of thought where its origin may have stemmed. One theory is that it was introduced to Trinidad by the Spaniards during their occupation in Trinidad, which began in the late 1400’s and ended in 1797 when Trinidad was taken over by Britain. The other theory states that its influence could have most likely stem from the Venezuelan peasants and agricultural laborers who journeyed to Trinidad in the 1900’s to 1920’s and settled in rural areas, such as Lopinot, Caura, Paramin, to work in the cocoa plantations. This community of cocoa labourers were known as the “Cocoa Panyols”, a local distortion of the word “espanol“.

The “Cocoa Panyols” had a tradition that reflected their mixed racial origin of Amerindian, Spanish, French, and African ancestry. Parang was part of their culture and this close-knit community maintained their language, customs, and religion that was reflected particularly in their music, essentially the parang music. They were proud of their music and the music was played with all their being. Some of the early bands that grew to national popularity reflected how this music was expressed in its rural beginnings.

Parang Music and Other Genres

However, Parang persisted basically because its singers maintained contact with Venezuela, and the music was enjoyed by both the rural Hispanic population and rural population in general. It was not subject to any form of suppression or censorship as calypso, a musical form of expression developed by the African slaves in the eighteenth century and an off-shoot of canboulay. Parang music is centered around the Roman Catholic religion, and the music is therefore a lot milder, reserved and free from double entendre: a staple of calypso music.

Ole Time Trinidad Parang from the heart Lopinot – Papa Guhn (Goon) & Sotero Gomez with Lopinot Serenaders.

In a society like Trinidad and Tobago where there is cultural diversity, there is always a tendency to merge some aspect of music, and Parang music is no exception. For instance, Soca became an infusion of Calypso and Chutney music. It is also common in Trinidad to play the different genres of music at the same location. Singers from these various genres are also crossing over into other genres and singing their adapted versions of the music.

The Evolution of Parang Music

For this reason, Parang music is moving beyond it boundaries and evolving. It has now become part of the school curriculum and there is also the school parang competition where both Primary and Secondary schools compete for prizes. Like many other forms of local music, parang music entered the media through live broadcasts of the Parang music competition around the 1970s. Soon it appealed to marketers of local products and services, such as seen now in banking commercials and the like.

However, it is of the view by many that traditional Parang is a thing of the past. I would not pretend all is well with this form of music in Trinidad, because I feel that parang music is being compromised by some local groups to meet Anglo-American standards and appeal to the carnival music lovers. This encroachment of the calypso music, intended to jump-start the Carnival season, I believe, can do more damage to the music than help preserve the true identity of this unique and very Trini music.

Preserving Parang Music in its Form

On the other hand, there are still those who are committed to preserving this form of music, and I applaud their efforts. Their work has been rewarded by the many new bands that emerge yearly to join in the Parang Music Festival. Also, many young people show their support for this form of music, and this has helped the music persist and continue to get its deserved airing on Trinidad and Tobago’s local television and radio stations. However, the commercialization of parang music has gone far from its humble beginnings.

You can hear more of this rich music called Parang music on this page.

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