Parang Music Festival Brings Caribbean Roots to Brooklyn

Singer Drupatee Ramgoonai will perform at the Parang Festival. Get a taste of Christmas parang music by listening to a song of hers below. (Photo via Carib News)

The 26th Annual Parang Festival will be held on Saturday, Dec. 1, by the Brooklyn Parang Association and Five Boro Parang Lovers, reported Carib News.

The Tropical Paradise Ballroom at 1367 Utica Avenue in Brooklyn will open its doors to a variety of Parang artists from the Caribbean.

Instruments in the genre include “a cuatro, (a small guitar with four strings), a boxbass, (a one-string bass instrument), a mandolin, maracas, tock-tock and a guiro (a notched gourd scraper) are the instruments used to create that distinctive ‘Parang’ flavor.” But what is Parang music?

In simple terms, Parang is the Spirit of Trinidad & Tobago’s Christmas much like traditional Christmas carols are the quintessential expression of Christmas in America. The word is derived from Parranda, a Spanish word meaning “merrymaking.” It refers as well to the group of revelers who sing and dance at home or along the streets to amuse themselves and friends at Christmastime.

(Photo by Marc Aberdeen via Flickr Creative Commons)

Parang evolved from the influence of Trinidad’s Spanish colonizers who ruled the country from 1498-1797, as well as Venezuelan migrants who came to the country in the 19th century to work on cocoa plantations. In fact, many consider parang, which is sung in Spanish, to be East Venezuelan folk music.

A Parang, or paranging, also refers to the act of going door-to-door during Christmas and singing parang songs, a common sight in the Caribbean, akin to caroling in the United States. More recently, Parang has also come to describe Christmas songs that have been adapted to the local culture in Trinidad & Tobago.

In more recent history however, Parang has also become that new musical wave known as Soca/Parang. Calypsonians gave rise to this new musical fusion. For many years, “conscious” Trinidadians complained about the airing of traditional American carols at Christmastime. They argued that in the Caribbean there could not be “A White Christmas” or be “Walking in the Winter Wonderland.” “What do we in the Caribbean know about “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire?”

Through the expression of Trinidad & Tobago’s many gifted artists came the solution to this problem. They started singing a style of Christmas songs that mixed Soca and Parang in true Trinidad style – dubbed Soca-Parang. It was this hybrid of the two existing musical genres sung in English using local expressions and resulting in a breakaway from the traditional Spanish Parang. Now Christmas songs are more localized with joyful songs done in the Parang vernacular.

Parang arrived in North America 26 years ago with the founding of the Brooklyn Parang Association, which according to its founder, “Parang King” Thomas Jacobs, was meant “to maintain a sense of cultural continuity and connection.”

“There will always be people who cannot be home for the holidays,” Jacobs said. “Being able to attend a live Parang show is a sure way of keeping the Christmas spirit alive even though we are away from family and friends.”

Since 1987, there have been annual Parang shows in Brooklyn, New York and other parts of North America featuring top Parang bands from Trinidad & Tobago performing alongside popular international Soca/Parang artists. In the past 26 years, featured bands at the ‘Original Parang Festival-Wild Meat Style’ have included Parang greats like Los Tocadores, San Jose Serenaders, Los Pajaros, Lara Brothers, Parang Queen Daisy Voisin with La Divina Pastora and a host of International Soca/Parang artists.

This year’s international all-star cast promises a Parang festival that would certainly take you back to the Caribbean in true West Indian Wild Meat style.  And if you are still wondering “What is a Parang?” Well get this: A Parang is a song; it’s our music; it’s our celebration; it’s getting together with friends; it’s the Caribbean’s Christmas.

Musicians performing at the Parang Festival include Los Tocadores, Los Pajaros, Becket, Stumpy, Adesh Samaroo, Leon Coldero, Toronto Scrunter and Drupatee Ramgoonai. Types of Parang music include the traditional form, as well as Chutney Parang and Soca Parang.

Listen below to a Christmas parang song by Drupatee Ramgoonai called “Christmas Time (Chutney Parang).” She is considered the “Chutney Soca Queen” for blending various styles together in her music.

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