Gracias dios por 50 años! (Thank God for 50 years)
So exclaimed National Parang Association of Trinidad and Tobago (NPATT) President Alicia Jaggasar on the eve of the Association’s 50th anniversary celebration. Tomorrow will mark exactly half a century since the association was formed on April 19, 1971.
Since then, Jaggasar said NPATT has worked tirelessly towards gaining recognition and respect for parranderos and their communities and bringing structure to the beloved genre. NPATT, which currently has 36 member bands, is headed by Jaggasar and her team of vice president Neal Marcano, secretary Valarie Marcano, treasurer Nigel Winter and public relations officer Irvys Juarez.
“It is still an ongoing challenge for parranderos. It’s not just about a bunch of people playing music and there’s a bottle of rum somewhere,” Jaggasar started telling the Kitcharee on Friday about the change in perception towards the genre and its practitioners.
“It’s about passion and the love for the music, spreading love and bringing the Christmas spirit to the people. We are also showing how the art form is worthy of being passed on to future generations through our junior parranderos and the secondary schools parang competition,” she continued.
The Los Alumnos de San Juan lead singer said, the onus is also on the association to continue to educate the public on the sacred ritual of praise music.
“We also have to educate the people who hire us. They need to understand that bands bring more to the table than just entertainment - although that is a large part of what we do. What you are hiring is a piece of cultural preservation and in some cases a sacred ritual of religious music and praise,” she said.
In search of a permanent home
Jaggasar said despite the advances made in the past five decades by the genre, there is still a lot of work to be done to move parang from a seasonal art to a year-round activity.
“We need a permanent home. When you have your own, self-sustainability is possible and becomes more real. We have been calling on the Government, knocking on that door to see if we can secure a piece of land to create our own headquarters on which we can build and grow.
“We have plans for a museum dedicated to parang, a concert hall so we can do our own performances and be sustainable that way. We have workshops and we are also looking at a school of music. We have so much great work to do,” she said.
Jaggasar said the association plans to mark the milestone with a Catholic mass this afternoon (Sunday) at the Church of the Assumption, Long Circular Road, Maraval. Parranderos from around the island are expected to have their instruments blessed at the service by officiant Fr Ashton Pierre.
Unfortunately, due to rolling back of Covid-19 restrictions they have been forced to postpone tomorrow’s (Monday) planned awards and gala at Queen’s Hall, St Ann’s, Jaggasar said. The event will now take place on June 9.
“We have decided to postpone due to the protocols and restrictions. The most important people on this night will be our awardees, and if we cannot have the awardees there then we will lean on the side of precaution to ensure that the citizens are safe,” she said.
A National Parang Orchestra
NPATT will launch a National Parang Orchestra: Orquesta Nacional de Parang de Trinidad y Tobago (ONPaTT) at the postponed gala, Jaggasar said. They also plan to host several online workshops and educational programmes including a fan mania quiz.
“The orchestra comprises members of parang groups and junior parang groups across the country and there is a team for the orchestra headed by Enrico Camejo, our musical director, along with our arranger Julio Torres, assistant musical director Mikhel Carter and our conductor Dr Mia Gormandy.
“We have an umbrella of all the instrumentation you would hear in parang and Latin music. Part of the mandate for the orchestra is to promote music literacy among parang musicians in T&T. We also want to promote inter-generational transfer of knowledge and skills in parang musicianship between more established parranderos and the junior parranderos from the schools. It will be a beautiful exchange of education, love and music,” Jaggasar said.
The parang association and its members have also been adversely affected by the ongoing global pandemic and like most creatives around the world they have had little opportunities to perform and earn money, Jaggasar said.
“All musicians and people in the arts are suffering right now, and with parang, the challenge is even greater because culturally parang is seen by the public as only a seasonal thing. One of our aims at NPATT is to develop a model of self-reliance that will transform parang into a self-sustaining, year-round activity.
One solution, Jaggasar mused, may involve taking the music into communities and performing for smaller groups. The Assocation already hosted several online showcases last year including Let’s Talk Parang as well as a series of concerts in collaboration with WACK 91.1 FM.
“We are looking into the possibility of doing a Parang Music Caravan, which we hope will happen in various communities as we lead up to Christmas. We want to keep parang constantly in the public eye to increase the chances of people engaging with bands for the season for bookings. We hope that things improve and we will not still be under these restrictions, but time will tell,” Jaggasar concluded.