Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : November 7th 2013 Contents B24
Guardian www.guardian.co.tt Thursday, November 7, 2013
"Ay ay ay ay, bring out de ham," sings Marcia
Miranda on her 1992 soca parang classic. Sounds
like a terrific plan to me. I m not sure if my belly
is in my hand, technically speaking, but my gut has
certainly expanded since I arrived in these twin
Perhaps it s for the best I m spending Christmas
in London, not Port-of-Spain. The effect of pastelles,
black cake, turkey and ponch de crème (paunch de
crème?) on my stomach would most likely be impos-
sible to rectify.
But this column is not about food---it s about one
of my other favourite things, music. Not just any
music, Christmas music. Not just any Christmas
music, hybrid Christmas music.
Parang, and to a greater extent soca parang, are
wonderful examples of hybridity in music. It s a
subject close to my heart. Studying anthropology as
an undergraduate, I wrote my final year dissertation
on Congolese rumba.
In the 1930s in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of
Congo and in Brazzaville, Congo (at the time known
as the Belgian Congo and French Congo respective-
ly---DRC Congo was renamed Zaire in the 1970s
under Mbotu s Africanisation regime) vinyl records
arrived, imported from Cuba. The Afro-Cuban rumba
rhythms that had Havana swinging all night long
very quickly got a grip of those central African capitals,
a grip that has not loosened to this day.
Modern Congolese music contains a far wider
range of influences, from soukous (fast guitar-driven
dance pop originating in the 1970s and not too dis-
similar to soca music---try Zaiko Langa Langa, the
band who were the genre s greatest exponents), to
R&B, dancehall and hip-hop. But it retains the rhythm
and essence of rumba.
In the 1950s and 60s Congolese rumba, as per-
formed by musical gods like Franco and his orchestra
TP OK Jazz, was distinctly Latin American in flavour.
If you closed your eyes you might think you were
in a Havana nightclub. Saxophones, brass sections,
conga drums, electric guitars, tambourines and, cru-
cially, singers singing in Spanish. Or what they thought
was Spanish. Like parang, the Congolese rumba
singers didn t really know what they were singing.
They were vaguely mimicking Spanish choruses or
phrases they had heard.
Parang, detested by some Trinis, may not be an
indigenous music of T&T. But then, what is? Tambrin,
which originated in Tobago, might be the closest
thing you have to an authentic homegrown musical
form; born out of the beautiful, rhythmical music of
slaves imported from Africa.
Calypso and soca are developments of other earlier
musical forms, kaiso for example from West Africa
and music arising from the French creole musical
All music, some say, goes back to Africa and the
rhythm of drums. Disco, house music, rap et al are
all spawned from the pounding tribal beats of Africa.
Classical music is not. It is an authentic European
musical art form with no prior influence---the music
of monks and monasteries that evolved into intensely
technical expressive orchestral compositions. Bach
and Mozart did not tap into the primitive rhythms
of the great plains and jungles.
Parang is Venezuelan in origin. But the migration
of it to T&T gave it a distinct local flavour. This is
what hybridity is all about. Most music is hybrid.
Reggae, rock n roll, jazz, garage, grime, rap---while
they are all novel inventions they do not spring
entirely from nowhere. Technology advances music
but creation comes from what the progenitors of the
form have heard previously and splice or mash together
with something else they ve heard.
Parang takes the Latin American tradition of Christ-
mas music, joyful, uplifting, reverent and adds a Trini
twist. The lyrics, when sung in English, are often
hilarious, parodies of a cliched Christmas that every-
Christmas begins early here, and I m
glad---it gives us longer to enjoy the parang.
The rest of the year really is consumed with
soca and dancehall. It s nice to have an alter-
On Christmas Eve this year I will, as I
always do, take my mother to St Paul s
Cathedral in London to sing traditional
Christmas carols. We queue for two hours
to go in, festive cheer and mulled wine in
abundance. There is something completely
pure and soul-enriching about carols: from
the moment the little choirboy enters with
a candle singing the solo verse of Once In
Royal David s City to the majestic chorus
of Mendelsohn s Hark! The Herald Angels
Sing, it s magical.
Exiting down St Paul s enormous steps
as the church bells ring out over London
is Christmas crystallised.
It would be nice, though, upon exiting,
to see a little group of paranderos strumming
their cuatros and box basses and singing in
dulcet Trinidadian tones.
Or, as a friend puts it, "No-teeth old men
drunkenly braying in a language they think
is Spanish." Feliz Navidad, everybody.
Play more glocal
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