Last updated: 11:00 PM ET, Tue December 15 2015

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  • Rosalind Cummings-Yeates | December 15, 2015 11:00 PM ET

    Parang Primer: The Foundations of Trinidad and Tobago’s Holiday Music Tradition

    Parang Primer: The Foundations of Trinidad and Tobago’s Holiday Music Tradition

    Photo via Wikimedia Commons

    The Caribbean region is noted for a festive ambiance all year round, so the holidays always turn up the partying a notch. Every island has its own traditions with holiday food and music but Trinidad and Tobago really offers an unusual, months-long celebration.

    The two-island nation is famous for the catchy rhythms of calypso and steelpan music, but the Christmas season ushers in a totally different musical landscape. From October to January 6, the bouncy sounds of parang, a spirited folk music, fill the streets. Roving bands of musicians, or paranderos, serenade entire neighborhoods in exchange for holiday food and drinks. The parang tradition brings together music, dancing and food for a true Trini-style holiday celebration.

    Bursting with Latin rhythms and traditionally sung in Spanish, parang music was transported to Trinidad and Tobago from neighboring Venezuela, where workers went to work on cocoa estates. The word "parang" derives from the Spanish term "parranda," which translates to "a band of merrymakers or serenaders." A traditional parang band showcases four to six singers and musicians playing guitar, cuatro, mandolin, bandolin violin, cello, box bass, maracas or shak shak and wood block or toc toc. A contemporary version might also feature flute, electric bass, steel pan and flute, especially for concerts. These festive performers take over neighborhoods, pouring out parang classics and new hits designed to spur lots of dancing.

    Generally, parang sounds like lively party music, but individual parang songs are actually given different classifications, often religious. Aserenale displays a slow to moderate tempo and is usually sung at the door, at the beginning of the serenade. Anunciacion focuses on the coming of Christ. Nacimiento celebrates the birth of Christ. Joropo deals with secular themes and boasts a quick tempo, and despedida gives thanks for the festivities and farewell. Soca parang is also a popular form, combining a soca beat with parang instrumentation and English lyrics. This is usually the form most often heard on radio stations and at parties. Revelers join in banging on pans or other percussion and dancing until their feet give out.

    No Caribbean celebration is complete without food, and a parang fete boasts specific Christmastime dishes and drinks. Partygoers usually dance while sipping cups of punch de creme, an alcoholic eggnog spiced with rum, or fresh ginger beer or sorrel, a fruity crimson drink made from sorrel flowers. Pastelles, a Trini form of tamales, made from steamed cornmeal and stewed meat wrapped in banana leaves are always a highlight, along with paime, a sweet version of pastelles created with coconut and dried fruit. Other mainstays include rum-soaked black cake and pelau(chicken and rice.)

    Parang competitions run throughout the Christmas season, culminating in a final contest in January, closing out the season with more dancing and excitement and of course, anticipation for Carnival preparations. If you’re in good condition and can handle late night parties and non-stop dancing, visiting Trinidad during parang season promises an unforgettable experience.


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Rosalind Cummings-Yeates Far-Sighted Field Notes

Rosalind Cummings-Yeates Rosalind Cummings-Yeates is a journalist, author and blogger who specializes in travel and culture topics. She loves guiding readers through the richness of various cultures and discovering the essence of a destination. Her travel and culture blog, Farsighted Fly Girl, offers travel insights through the music, food, art and history of various countries and cultures. Join her on the journey at www.Rosalindcummingsyeates.
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