Christmas secrets of TT
DARA E HEALY
THE RASPY voice of Daisy Voisin came through my headphones crisp and clear, powerful. Apurante! Apurante! The memory of her singing for us children came back, faded now, more like remembered smells and colours.
Like the sun shining through the door of the humble wooden house. And of us sitting at her feet as she chatted with my mother, intermittingly singing in Spanish and then going back to English. As I listened to her rattle off Spanish in my headphones, I remember thinking that it was good that we had not forgotten our parang queen, that we still played her music on the radio.
However, as we continue to make noises about a more relevant education system, I thought how good it would be if we could include the proper teaching of this music. For instance, did you know that apurante means hurry-up or come on as we would say? Or that parang came from the word parranda, merry making? This explains why the performers are called parranderos. The original music celebrates milestones around the life of the prophet Jesus. But were you aware that the music itself follows a natural progression or stages in his life?
For instance, the Annunciation celebrates when the angel announces to Mary that she is with child, even though she is a virgin. There is a famous vintage parang song, an annunciation, with the refrain “coro coro coro,” a medium pace, with slightly mournful sounding lyrics. The Nacimiento celebrates Jesus’s birth.
One of my favourite childhood songs is the Nacimiento by Daisy Voisin, although I did not understand this until I began to take an interest in the origins of parang: “
Y el nacimiento de Cristo así fue (And the birth of the Christ Child happened so)/
Según la escritura se lo explicare (According to the Scripture I will explain)/
Según la escritura se lo explicare/ Que vengan, que vengan, que vengan adorar (Let them come, let them come, let them come to worship)/
El rey de los cielos que ha nacido ya (The King of heaven is born.)”
Parang began with the music of the Venezuelans who came to Trinidad in the late 1700s fleeing war and troubled social conditions in their country. They did primarily agricultural work, fishing or planting cocoa and other crops on the estates that existed at the time. Historian Angelo Bissessarsingh noted that Venezuelan labourers supplemented the work force after the end of enslavement in 1834. In local twang, the workers were described as cocoa payol, derived from Espaniol or Spanish.
The music of the Venezuelans combined with that of the Africans and the indigenous peoples who lived here, like the Taino, Nepuyo and Warao. “Among the traditional instruments are the violin, guitar, claves (locally known as toc-toc), box bass (an indigenous instrument), tambourine, mandolin, bandolin, caja (a percussive box instrument), and marimbola (an Afro-Venezuelan instrument).”
Another favourite of mine was the Manzanares. The song recalls a mighty flood of the Manzanares River in Venezuela that caused many deaths: “
Río Manzanares... déjame pasar que mi madre enferma, me mandó a llamar! (Rio Manzanare please let me pass, my mother is sick she’s calling me. Let me pass...)”
It is said that the song was written to ensure that future generations would not forget the lives that were lost. I remember it being very slow and mournful, in keeping with the content of the song. However today it seems to be performed much faster by many of the parang groups.
Santa Cruz, Lopinot, Rio Claro, Arima, San Raphael and Palo Seco have traditionally been associated with parang. No, not Paramin; there they play French influenced Christmas music called creche which I will tell you about another time.
The music of our childhood impacts us as adults because it recalls a time when we were most happy, free of responsibility and on our journey of self-discovery. Although culture must evolve, for me it is disheartening that current generations will hear the new soca-parang tinged with sexual innuendoes and over-indulging in alcohol.
I think the beauty and the power of our traditional parang emanates from its innocence and celebration of life in its purest forms – friends, family and being satisfied with what we have.
As we continue to explore the secrets of Christmas, I hope to remind you just a little of that innocence and purity of the season. Call it a Christmas gift from me to you, inspired by the memory of Mama Daisy.
Sí, así es!
Dara E Healy is a performance artist, communications specialist and founder of the NGO, the Indigenous Creative Arts Network – ICAN