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Restoring the Easter Parang tradition

Los Alegres Sin Duda performs at the Easter Parang Competition on Easter Sunday in San Rafael. Photo: Gerard-Paul Wanliss

When you think ‘Parang’ you automatically connect the music with the Christmas Season. However, as Dr Francisca Allard explains, traditional elements sang Parang in Easter as well. Dr Allard is an assistant professor at the University of Trinidad and Tobago, and lead singer and composer of award winning group, Los Dinamicos.

What is Parang?

Specifically, the term ‘Parang’ is an abbreviation of the word ‘parranda’, literally translated as ‘a spree’ or ‘the act of merrymaking’. Concomitant with this change to ‘parang’ was the use of the word to identify a specific musical genre, in which the language is Spanish, the text, either biblical or secular and the time, either compound (6/8),  or simple (2/4 or 4/4).

In its early untouched form, Parang was brought to Trinidad by the indigenous peons of Oriente, Venezuela, during the 19th century, as simple folk music.

Notably, songs belonging to their practice of the velorio de cruz/Crosswake and a variety of secular songs such as variations of the joropo oriental (golpe, estribillo, and, golpe-estribillo), derivatives of the golpe (Río Manzanares, guarapo, sábana blanca and the seis), the polo, the ensaladilla, the jota and the vals were also transported.

These peons were soon dubbed ‘cocoa panyols’ because of their linguistic affiliation towards ‘español’ and their settling on the cocoa plantations.

Traditional use and function of parang music

Traditionally, Parang was a year-round activity and its use was celebratory. Religious festivals (namely Christmas and Easter) and special occasions such as birthdays, weddings and christenings were marked by the spontaneous songs and music of these ‘cocoa panyols’.

Parang also functioned as a source of constant reaffirmation of self-esteem and consequent self-fulfilment for these parranderos. The English-speaking society ostracised them because of their limited means, their Spanish language and their cultural practices.

By the end of the 19th century, a number of peons had become competent in the speaking of French creole and English. However, Spanish was not abandoned. Instead, the peons adhered tenaciously to their Spanish language, making it the mode of communication in their homes.

In the more isolated districts, the peons remained monolingual speakers of Spanish, thereby strengthening their core of resistance against the politically instituted English language.

Eventually, they formed a sub-culture within the creole structure existing in Trinidad, seeking refuge in their velorio de cruz/Crosswake, secular folk songs and their Parang.

Easter Parang

Research has shown that Easter Parang is neither popular in Venezuela nor in Trinidad as Christmas Parang. However, there is proof that it does/did exist. Trinidad sources have shared with me their childhood experiences of Easter Parang songs being played and sung in their homes by visiting parranderos.

In addition, a collection of verses (quatrains) based on the Passion, Crucifixion, Resurrection and Ascension of Christ, previously published by Dr Moodie-Kublalsingh, can be found in the book entitled La Parranda Trinitaria, compiled by Abdelkader Marquez and produced by the Venezuelan Embassy in 1979.

These quatrains (stanzas of four lines) are structured similarly to the Christmas aguinaldo (gift of song), with hexasyllabic lines (six syllables sung to the line) and an abcb or abab rhyming pattern. The end syllables of the first and third lines are free (do not necessarily have to rhyme) while those of the second and fourth lines, according to the purists ‘must rhyme’.

Quatrain:   Y Jesús clamó          a

Pues, oigan su voz                     b

Padre mi espíritu                       c

Encomiendo a Dios                   b

(José Espinosa)

Example taken from La Parranda Trinitaria

According to early cocoa panyol cantors (such as Sylvestre Mata and Eugenio Galán), each song must be thematically consistent, biblically accurate and detailed, with a logical sequence of events in the sung narrative. The traditional use of instruments was therefore minimal׃ a cuatro and a pair of maracas.

For the first half of the 20th century, both Christmas and Easter Parang remained at the level of the ‘folk’, being orally transmitted and circulating in a relatively fixed form among the peons and their acculturated non-Spanish-speaking neighbours. Then the performance/practise of Parang was basically a house-to-house affair with the visits of parranderos to friends and families.

By 1940, the number of musical instruments had increased to include the guitar, mandolin, violin/flute, box bass, scratcher and toc toc. From 1962 onwards, Christmas Parang ascended the public platform while the Easter Parang remained confined to its natural rural setting.

It may be said that the increasing popularisation of Christmas Parang as against the lack of a forum for the practice of the Easter Parang has contributed to its near extinction.

The combined efforts of the San Rafael Authentic Parang Association, San Rafael RC Church and La Nueva Experiencia to hold an Annual Easter Parang Competition should thus be applauded.

The restoration and embellishment of these inherited Easter Parang songs can only serve to give impetus to a Parang art form that is steadily climbing the ladder of success.